It was the same at Chamonix last week as it was at Agincourt centuries before. "Proud of their numbers and secure in soul, the confident and over-lusty French" got bushwhacked at the world ski championships they had so extravagantly staged. It was, for exulting France, a dolorous conclusion to a meet which already had been sadly and confusedly put out of joint by uncertain weather and the controversial withdrawal of several Iron Curtain countries.
France's ski team had been a heartening exception to the recent national tradition of sporting failure; generously subsidized, in 1961 it had dominated international events. But in the French Alps, in clear weather or gloomy snowfall, it was the Austrians, led by Karl Schranz and Marianne Jahn, a solemn 19-year-old baker's daughter, who triumphed. Austrian skiers won an unprecedented five of six races and amassed 15 medals out of a possible 24: France won only two gold medals: freckle-faced Marielle Goitschell took the ladies' combined title, and Charles Bozon, who had broken his back skiing four years ago and screamed from his stretcher that he would never race again, won the men's slalom. At 29, however, Bozon can hardly be considered a member of the nouvelle vague which brought France her fleeting prominence.
The United States took only two third places (Joan Hannah in the giant slalom and Barbara Ferries in the downhill) but it would be unjust as well as inaccurate to regard the American performance as a total failure. The U.S. team placed well in most events and once came breathtakingly close to winning.
This has been a fairly successful, if not entirely gratifying, season for the American team; Chuck Ferries won two major European slaloms, Bud Werner and Linda Meyers a giant slalom each. The team has worked hard under its 28-year-old coach, Bob Beattie, a big, bluff man who carries on like an emotional football coach. "Get out there and ski an aggressive race!" he roars. "When the going gets tough, the tough get tougher!"
The U.S. began promisingly at Chamonix; then things got tougher than Beattie had anticipated. In the first race, the ladies' giant slalom, Joan Hannah of the U.S. finished third, behind Fr√§uleins Jahn and Erika Netzer of Austria, Barbara Ferries and Jean Saubert, two other American girls, coming in fifth and sixth. It was a first-rate effort considering two of the U.S. girls had poor starting positions. That night the Americans were the toast of Chamonix. Beattie was congratulated by Honore Bonnet, the French coach. "The Americans are much improved," he said, feelingly. "They never give up. Our girls could take a lesson from them."
That night, too, it began to snow, continuing on into the next day, when the men's slalom was scheduled. "This is our Sunday punch," predicted Beattie. "The slalom is our best event." Beattie was told that the publicity men suddenly wanted information about his team. They were anticipating a U.S. victory. Beattie scowled. "That's like saying the New York Giants are going to win the title because they looked good in punting practice."
It was snowing heavily when the skiers trooped slowly up the first of the two slalom courses they would run, inspecting the gates. The snow was so thick it was impossible to see much of the race except on television. A number of sets had been placed in wooden shacks along the finish line. Werner started sixth, ramming downhill like Manuel Ycaza driving through the stretch, knocking over gates as though in mysterious anger. It was a typical slam-bang Werner run but he made it safely to the bottom. At the conclusion of the first go-around, Werner and Ferries were third and fourth.
During the intermission the storm turned into a blizzard and the electricity failed. No scoreboard, no public-address system—and no TV! Ferries descended through murky fog and heavy snow, taking his gates in fine fashion. Alas, he was disqualified for missing one of them. Now it was all up to Werner. If he could stay on his skis he would almost surely take third; a good run and he would win a world title, a triumph no American male has experienced. With each slashing turn Werner approached disaster; he cut corners as though at the wheel of a car in desperate flight from the Keystone Cops. He staggered once and wasted valuable seconds climbing back to the gate. But on he came once more, frantically. Just as he was coming into view of the crowd at the finish he fell. There are few more heartbreaking sights in sports. A boxer knocked down can get up and win but when a skier falls he is through. Slowly, pathetically, Werner arose and, head down, skied to the end, where he was met by his teammate Ferries. He simply rested his head on Chuck's shoulder and there they stood, alone in their common grief in the crowd.
It was, besides, the end of America's hopes for a gold medal. Fraulein Jahn took the women's slalom, Egon Zimmermann and two Austrian friends finished 1-2-3 in the giant slalom, Karl Schranz won the men's downhill and combined title, and Fr√§ulein Christl Hass, another Austrian yet, a husky photographer's assistant, was first in the ladies' downhill. In a frustrating moment for the U.S. and a sad one for France, Austria had regained its traditional dominance in Alpine skiing.