Whether the events of the IX Winter Olympics were unfolding on the precious beds of snow that lay among the parched brown mountains around Innsbruck or across the bridge from the old gray city in a gleaming ice stadium, two things were overwhelmingly apparent after the first week of the spectacle: the French can ski at least as well as the superb Austrians, even on handmade Alpine courses, and the Russians can skate better than anybody.
Soon after the huge goblet that burns as the traditional Olympic flame was lit on top of the Bergisel Stadium last Wednesday (right) the Russians began their unending celebrations around the ice arenas. First the Russian hockey team destroyed the U.S., 5-1, in a game that reminded Americans of the U.S. victory at Squaw Valley in 1960 only inasmuch as both sides still had six players and sticks. In quick succession, the Russians then knocked over Czechoslovakia, yawned, beat Switzerland, yawned, and seemed headed for a certain gold-medal showdown this Saturday with the resurgent Canadian team.
In the same ice stadium came an upset in the pairs figure skating by Russia's Ludmilla and Oleg Protopopov, who, after years of frustration in European and world championships, finally outdid Germany's favored Marika Kilius, she the luscious blonde, and Hans-J√ºrgen B√§umler, he the dark, handsome young man. And then Lidia Skoblikova got busy. Her modest project was to become the first winter-sports athlete ever to wear four gold medals all dangling around her neck at once. Each was for speed skating. You name the distance—500, 1,000, 1,500 or 3,000 meters—and Lidia skated it.
While the Russian delegation delighted in the early triumphs of Ludmilla and Oleg and Lidia and their highly skilled hockey players, the attention of the rest of Innsbruck and its overflowing tourists turned toward the more glamorous Alpine skiing events. That's where the French were. And in each of the first four races it was rather difficult to miss them, or for the disillusioned Austrians to forget them.
February 10, 1964
After six days at Innsbruck, the Olympic box score for French Alpine Coach Honoré Bonnet, who had been suspected of a somewhat permissive training program that allowed his racers some rowdy luxuries, was far more impressive than the confident Austrians had ever imagined it might be. A couple of sisters, Christine and Marielle Goitschel, finished one-two in the ladies' slalom, beating America's Jean Saubert, and then repeated—in reverse order—in the giant slalom two days later. Fran√ßois Bonlieu astonished even his own countrymen by winning the giant slalom. And Léo Lacroix ran the dangerous downhill course so beautifully that Austria's heavily favored Egon Zimmermann (see cover) was pushed to the greatest race of his career to win it by a mere .74 second. The struggling American team was left far behind.
The scene of Egon's triumph, on Patscherkofel above Igls, abounded with all of the normal dangers of any downhill so far as pure speed was concerned but was even more hazardous than most because of a labyrinth of technical difficulties: 15 major turns, most of them blind ones, with a hundred subtle but vicious bumps and surprising shadows, the whole thing falling away to the racer's right on all but a few turns into an unbroken barrier of trees and bare rocks.
In practice one racer. Australia's 19-year-old Ross Milne, crashed and was killed. Three others were seriously injured, and minor scars were countless. The gaudy, sport-worshiping European press promptly labeled the run 'The Course of Fear."
It was to this unsettling slope that American Alpine Coach Bob Beattie brought a team that he insisted was not only the best in U.S. history but equal to the best in Europe. Beattie had fought long and hard to get good seedings for his racers, and he had been successful. In a three-hour filibuster only three days before the downhill, Beattie had argued 20-year-old Billy Kidd into the first 16, there to join America's one established star, Buddy Werner.
"We've got our shot," said Beattie. "We'd rather have a good shot and lose than lose with an alibi."
On the day of the race more than 40,000 spectators climbed the narrow road to Igls. Many climbed the trees lining the course from bottom to top. Others trickled out of the woods or jammed together at the finish.
Three forerunners swept down the Patscherkofel. Then came Billy Kidd, who finished his run in a stunning two minutes 21.82 seconds to break the old course record by more than one second. For this one moment the U.S. seemed to have won its first men's Alpine medal ever. But then came a so-so Italian, only a second off Kidd's time, and it was obvious what was to follow.
One by one, the succeeding racers finished faster, shoving Kidd down the list. The seventh man, the favorite, was Egon Zimmermann. Crouched very low, arms thrust out and down, hands almost brushing the snow, he bolted beneath the finish-line banner and into the arms of a thousand countrymen. His time: a surpassing 2:18.16, bringing the Games' most prestigious gold medal to Egon and continuing prosperity to the Austrian ski community.
Wedged between dozens of cameramen, police, officials and bouquet-tossing admirers, Egon smiled handsomely yet calmly beneath his blue helmet and said, "This at last was a run like it ought to be, a perfect run."
The Americans won no medals. Ni Orsi, the 19-year-old Californian, placed 14th, giving promise that he might develop one day into a champion downhiller. Kidd was 16th, finishing in the top seed, where he had at least proved that he belonged. Buddy Werner, looking a bit stiff on his run, was 17th, and Chuck Ferries, the U.S. slalom champion, was 20th.
"We've got a way to go," said Beattie, and no one could honestly deny that. "But the important thing is they know we're here. We proved we deserved to be seeded."
The one with the least distance to go, the nearest one to Egon Zimmermann and a warning of French ski power on the ascent, was Lacroix, a pleasant extrovert whose idea of humor is to help carry a Volkswagen into the lobby of a hotel. He did so at a pre-Innsbruck training spot in Italy. But laughing Léo Lacroix was not laughing at all after the downhill. "The gold medal is the only one." he said. "I was ready to win and I expected to win. But I lost my strength. I made too many mistakes at the top, and then I let the bumps take me out."
On Saturday everyone moved from Igls to another mountain village known as Lizum, where the U.S. Alpine forces hoped to erase the memories of the men's downhill. There, Jean Saubert, the wholesome Oregon State coed, was expected to win the women's special slalom. Instead the Goitschel sisters won two more Alpine ski medals for France, a gold and a silver. Jean Saubert had to ski a great race her second time down the mountain to get the bronze.
In the first of her two runs Jean Saubert was too cautious and thus too slow. The result was that Christine and Marielle—the latter Jean's steadiest competitor in pre-Olympic races—beat her by more than a full second. The American girl was, dispiritingly. in sixth place at this point.
She was her brilliant self in the second run on an even more difficult course. But the Goitschels were not to be shaken. Christine skied elegantly yet strongly to win, with Marielle second.
Said Jean, "I should have been faster on the first part of the first run, but it was a little touchy up there and I guess I was afraid of making a mistake. I felt fast from the middle on, and all through the last run. I'm happy with the bronze medal. But I'd feel a lot better if I'd won." At least the U.S. finally had a medal to talk about.
The Goitschels, a down-to-earth, strong-languaged pair, felt just fine. After a swift, happy, weeping, sisterly hug at the finish, they were lifted to the shoulders of French journalists and carried to the Sporthotel Olympia, where they momentarily disappeared, to re-emerge, waving from a hotel balcony.
Of the two Goitschel sisters, both of whom quit school at 14 to ski and work in their parents' 10-room Pension Helrob at Val d'Isére, Christine is by far the quieter, a fact demonstrated anew at the medal-giving ceremony. As 19-year-old Christine stood calmly on the winner's dais, Marielle jumped up beside her, pointing and shouting, "C'est ma soeur." What everyone thought Marielle inwardly felt—and not without some reason—is that she should have been receiving the gold medal.
In all pre-Olympic races except one in Germany, where the three finished exactly as they did at Innsbruck, Marielle, like Jean Saubert, had been more accomplished than Christine. As racers, Marielle and Jean are closer than the sisters in style. They attack a course with an obstinate, bullish kind of determination, furiously sideswiping the gateposts and, in Marielle's case, cursing those that sideswipe back. Christine, however, is more of the elegant racer in the French tradition. Her skis remain parallel as she glides rather than slashes through the gates. If Christine has something in her favor to counteract the speed of her sister and Jean Saubert, it is an acrobatic ability to recover more quickly from a bad turn or any slight loss of control. It was this ability that made the difference in the Olympic slalom.
Meanwhile, one Frenchman, who unquestioningly spoke for 50 million, sent a telegram making it plain that no matter who won what now or later, the nation had taken the Goitschel girls to its bosom. "I wish you to know, mesdesmoiselles," said the message, "that the whole people are very proud of your victory. I address to you my warm congratulations." And whose congratulations were those? Charles de Gaulle's.
Two days later Le Grand Charles had even more reason to enthuse, for on Monday the Goitschel girls won two more medals, including the gold, in the giant slalom. But while Marielle came in first, Jean Saubert was getting closer. Her time of 1:53.11 earned the U.S. girl a tie with Christine for second place, just .87 back of Marielle, and gave Saubert a silver medal to go with her bronze. She had been her nation's biggest and best hope at Innsbruck, and she was coming through.
"Now I would like a gold," she said. "Christl Haas will obviously be the favorite in the downhill, and the Goitschels will be hard to beat, but I like to think that I can win. I know one thing, I'll go all out."
The giant slalom was run over an old-fashioned wide-open course that had but two really tight curves. Christine and Jean came down ahead of Marielle and their times were much better than those of anyone else; in their different ways—Christine stylishly smooth, Jean batting down more gateposts—each made the run in flawless fashion. But waiting at the finish for Marielle Goitschel to come down, and wearing ABC-TV headphones to catch the French girl's interval time, Jean Saubert appeared as relaxed and untriumphant as if she had just made a practice run.
"I didn't think I had done anything," she explained later, "because no one was cheering when I finished. I was going pretty good, I think, but at one gate, about two-thirds down, I took it the right way but too wide."
Then Jean heard Marielle's interval time—31.7 compared to her own 31.9—and suddenly Marielle came into view through the last gates. "She has it," said Saubert calmly. "We'll just have to try again."
The mob that surrounded Marielle at the finish line was less surprised at another Goitschel victory than at something the younger sister said then. In French, strained through a wad of chewing gum, the playful Marielle said: "Tonight I announce my engagement to Jean-Claude Killy." As it turned out this was a mysterious private joke that greatly amused French downhiller Killy and the other members of Bonnet's team.
Then the Goitschels, still running one-two in a manner, bolted from the throng, romped up a mountain and through the woods adjacent to the giant slalom course, disappearing over a rise with all sizes of delirious Frenchmen in pursuit.
The Goitschels, despite their brilliance, had no corner on collecting gold medals, for France. In between their two victories Fran√ßois Bonlieu, a pensive 26-year-old mountain guide from Chamonix, pulled one of the games' great upsets in the men's giant slalom. Bonlieu has long been a ski racer of considerable talent but the slalom, rather than the longer races, has always been more suited to his quickness and style. On Sunday, however, Bonlieu defeated a powerful array of Austrian favorites on a highly difficult course, one aimed straight at the Sporthotel Olympia from nearly a mile up. It was very steep, with bumps that obscured a racer's view of the 75 red and blue gates. It had, at one point, a straight drop into blurring sunshine, and the turns were sharp. One hour before the race Bonlieu calmly put on his skis and traversed across from a chair lift to the start. He walked briefly down the course, then walked back. "There is ice down below," he said, "and there are ugly bumps."
Austria's Pepi Stiegler, who had drawn the No. 1 position, made the first bid for the home country. His time was 1:48.05, and it was destined to win him a bronze medal. Bonlieu followed smoothly in 1:46.71, but no one then realized how good that would be. With so many great racers behind him, and only one Austrian beaten, Bonlieu actually seemed demoralized. "I made two mistakes," he said. "At the top of the course I took one gate too far and another one backwards."
That may have been the way to do it. For in those next moments Bonlieu's run looked increasingly unapproachable. Suddenly, when Egon Zimmermann hooked an edge and fell after posting the fastest of all interval times, the French shouts began to be heard. (At the downhill, three days before, Zimmermann had said he feared Bonlieu's skill.) Only Karl Schranz, the last Austrian, who was coming 15th, had a real chance to beat Bonlieu, and everyone knew it. Schranz came slashing through the gates, trailed by the whoops of the Austrians who had crawled up the course and been aghast to see Zimmermann fall. But Schranz was one edge too slow. His 1:47.09 won only the silver medal.
For the U.S. it was a troubled event all the way. First of all, Billy Kidd was ill with bronchitis and bedridden for two days before the race. But Billy was determined to race, especially after Bob Beattie once again had bullied three Americans—Jimmy Heuga (sixth), Kidd (eighth) and Buddy Werner (10th) into the top seed. When the unofficial results were posted, the U.S. performance seemed worthy of the few scattered cheers its racers had received. Heuga was fifth, Kidd was eighth, Billy Marolt was 13th and Werner, despite a fall, was 14th.
But down at the friendly hot chocolate stand near the finish line, the Americans knew better.
"I missed a gate," said Heuga. "I came over a blind bump and just went by it." Heuga was disqualified.
Werner brooded: "Just tried to go too fast, that's all. I went right through a panel. Then I didn't care and fell. I knew it wouldn't count." And Werner was disqualified, too.
This left Kidd in seventh place, a fairly heroic performance for a racer with a fever. Surprising Billy Marolt moved up to 12th.
If De Gaulle was delighted at what was happening in Lizum, Khrushchev must have felt like turning the Kremlin over to Lidia Skoblikova. The perky 24-year-old blonde was the dominant member of Russia's awesome brigade of skaters—and, for that matter, of the entire 1964 Winter Olympics. Four years ago at Squaw Valley, Lidia won gold medals in both the 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter speed-skating events. This time, at Innsbruck, there was only one race that Lidia Skoblikova was not supposed to win, and this primarily because she was not expected to enter. That was the 500-meter sprint, the first women's race. But Skoblikova showed up for the 500 and no one else had a chance.
The Olympic record for the 500 meters was 45.9 at 11 a.m., but by 11:01 it was broken. The first racer, Russia's Irina Egorova, swung around the oval in 45.4. Another Russian, Tatyana Sidirova, a fetching, fine-boned blonde, then followed with a 45.5. These times were to gleam on top of the big IBM scoreboard only as long as Lidia waited to skate. When she did skate, there was no question in the minds of all who sat in the stands or stood around the edge of the course and who could read the timing device that this marvelous Russian athlete was going to win. With each fluid motion Lidia's time was faster than her teammates and she finished in 45.0.
Afterward, surrounded by celebrating Russians, each of whom was already certain that Lidia would now take four gold medals, she wept and insisted that she did not want to be greedy. But her husband, back home in Chelyabinsk, had wired: "Win just as many gold medals as you can."
For the sake of Lidia's competition, her husband might have been compassionate. All she could win turned out to be all that were available. The next day she won the 1,500 meters, breaking her own Olympic record set in 1960, and the day after that she took the 1,000 meters. That, by all logic, should have been the limit. Only one other woman had ever won three Winter Olympic golds: Sonja Henie, and she had taken a single medal in three successive Games. No one at all, man or woman, had ever won four. But then no one has ever been quite like Lidia.
The night before the 3,000 meters she slept well and arrived at the stadium fashionably late, pink-cheeked and smiling, almost as if she were a spectator. With her boots quickly laced, she went directly to warm up. Along the sidelines Russian coaches and officials, obviously more nervous than Lidia, huddled and complained mildly that the ice seemed soft. Under Olympic rules, the skaters go off in timed pairs and the seventh heat was Lidia's turn.
At the rate of two steps per second she sped in pursuit of the fourth gold medal. Along the rim of the course were the Russian coaches, still nervous. They shouted such instructions as, 'Take it easy.... Don't hurry your steps.... Keep going." Lidia did, and drove home in 5:14.9. It was not a record but it was more than respectable on the softening ice, and except for a highly surprising performance by a tiny North Korean named Pil Hwa Han, who equaled Lidia's clockings for 4½ laps, there was no more drama.
In the end, the drama had all existed within Lidia herself. "My mid-race time was not as fast as I had hoped," she said. "My morale fell when they called it to me. Then I speeded up and they called to me to slow down for fear I would fall."
When someone asked if she would have room for the four medals, Lidia spoke through her disarming, infectious
smile. "Well," she said, "I've already been able to find room for 62 medals, so I don't suppose I'll have trouble with four more."
In the earlier pairs figure skating, the triumphant Russians seized their medal by accomplishing a small revolution. Heretofore athletic skill had been the hallmark of pairs figure skating—the vigorous lifts and spins characteristic of longtime European champions Marika Kilius and Hans-J√ºrgen B√§umler of Germany. They were the favorites; they were athletic; and they were placed second.
Oleg Protopopov, whose name is like a sputtering Model T engine and whose sloping forehead and small eyes give him a slightly sinister look, and blonde, pixyish Ludmilla flowed over the ice like liquid. They flicked and spun and slid by one another in nearly faultless balletlike patterns.
Groused Kilius and B√§umler afterward: "We say skating should be a sport and not a ballet." But Oleg and Ludmilla could not be put down. They were happy to have the Germans around. "To win an Olympic event without competition," said the proud Oleg, "would be like gazing into a sky with no stars." If Olympic medals were awarded for speeches, he might have won another right there.
Only a few Americans seem to care very much what happens in the Nordic events, but the citizens of northern Europe care very much. And by taking three big, beautiful gold medals the citizens of tiny Finland became the happiest in all northern Europe. They had just about as much to crow over, to their way of thinking, as mighty Russia and populous France. The cheerful Finnish border guard, Eero Mantyranta, won both the 15-and 30-kilometer ski runs. And his teammate, Veikko Kankkonen, produced one of the Games' great upsets when, magnificently, on the last of his three cracks at the 70-meter ski jump, when he knew he had to be nearly perfect to beat favored Toralf Engan of Norway, he was just that and won.
The 70-meter jump, like all the Nordic events except for the big 80-meter jump on closing day in the Bergisel Stadium, was held 10 miles to the northwest of Innsbruck in the tiny village of Seefeld. Seefeld is an authentic Tyrolean outpost with golden-haired children who toddle along the streets like windup toys; the streets are bordered with beer parlors as yet unconquered by the music of teen-age America that has overrun the rest of the Innsbruck area. Into Seefeld on Friday came Engan, the favorite, and Kankkonen, his challenger, and from the first they were the class of the field. When they jumped their bodies carved fiat arcs against the gray sky, rushing toward the point of impact far below with the graceful purpose of well-aimed javelins.
After his three scheduled jumps Engan's victory seemed assured. He was already being interviewed by journalists when Kankkonen started down the inrun for the last time, No. 53 among 53 jumpers. Then he launched into space, legs straight, arms clasped to his sides, head extended over the tips of his parallel skis. For 79 meters he soared, nearly 260 feet, to land gracefully in the classic pose. At once the spectators knew that Kankkonen, not Engan, had won. And Finland had joined Russia and France as a homeland for Olympic heroes.