Maybe the difference is that at the core every American girl is a teeny bopper. There has to be some hidden reason why girls from other lands keep skiing faster than girls from the U.S. It was proved again during the month of January, when the Alpine teams from 11 nations hurtled about the slopes of Germany, Switzerland and Austria in all of the big European meets. The only real change in things was that Canada's tigerish Nancy Greene shoved into the elite with those French acrobats, Marielle Goitschel and Annie Famose. The main progress the Americans made was social. They looked cuter, smiled brighter, dressed better and danced sharper than any group before them. As the American downhiller, Ni Orsi, said, "They're not like their predecessors, man. They're not a bunch of nuns."
At Oberstaufen, Grindelwald and Schruns with U.S. Women's Coach Chuck Ferries, there were, in order of the attention they created, Suzy Chaffee, Sandy Shellworth, Robin Morning, Penny McCoy and Wendy Allen. Just their names sound like a Vegas chorus line, right? Suzy, Sandy, Robin, Penny and Wendy. They were there to race and try to win, to be sure, and they had done some pretty good things in the past. But it was either too early in the season for them, or they were too lonesome. Instead of charging into the fortress that is now French ski racing, they watched Nancy Greene do it with four startling victories and then watched the French bounce back.
Meanwhile, the good old American girls were, well, good old American girls. They wrote notes to their boy friends, knitted caps for their boy friends, requested music for their boy friends—What Now My Love was very big—and occasionally went searching for their boy friends.
"One thing you get with a teeny bopper is a lot of letters and cookies," said Jimmy Heuga, America's premier slalom racer, one evening in Wengen, Switzerland, where the U.S. men spent a losing week. He gets them from 17-year-old Penny McCoy.
"Heuga is the teeny-bop king of North America," said Orsi, who ended the joking and went off to his nightly bubble bath.
It was of more than casual interest to the girls that there were more American men racing in Europe than usual. Head Coach Bob Beattie had Heuga and nine others on the European circuit watching France's Jean-Claude Killy dominate the sport as he has for two years.
The girls constantly pressed Ferries with questions like "Where are the boys now?" and "Where do they go next?" And Ferries, whose job is not entirely enviable, answered them with such statements as "Cool it," and "Put away the knitting and start winning some points." At one interval in Switzerland, when the girls were in Grindelwald and Beattie's boys were on the other side of the Eiger in Wengen, Ferries gave up and decided to change his tack. He took the girls by train to Wengen for a two-hour visit with the boys.
Suzy Chaffee, a modelish-looking 20-year-old blonde with a Doris Day smile, was first out on the platform in a new purple Bogner pants suit. "Where are the Italians?" she yelped to a Swiss baggageman, who did what all Swiss do when you ask them questions. He stared blankly at the Jungfrau. Suzy dashed off and finally found Giovanni DiBona, an Italian racer with shaggy hair for whom she is knitting a cap.
Suzy emerged as the most interesting American on the trails, for she indeed has what Beattie calls "star quality." She writes stories for newspapers, most of them unsolicited and a lot of them about herself. She will put on her long blonde wig and do a jerk on the dance floor that will injure anyone near, but when an American television man labeled her affectionately a "flake," she got mad. "That is not the image I want to project," she said. Suzy's image may one day become that of the best U.S. girl downhiller in history and also that of the team leader. "She can be the leader," said Ferries. "She goes faster than hell and likes it."
Suzy went fast but not fast enough in Europe. She got a fifth and an eighth in downhills at Grindelwald and Schruns. Not terrific, except her times were only a couple of seconds behind Nancy Greene and Marielle Goitschel, the winners. Slowly she was gaining the respect of the Europeans. Of Chaffee, Marielle Goitschel said, "She's strong and brave, but she skis crazy. Her skis sometimes go in all directions." While it was difficult ever to be unaware of Suzy's presence, she did not create the excitement she did at Vail, Colo. during December training. When the racers put on a Christmas show for the townspeople, her act was titled "The Ski Goddess from Vermont," and it involved Suzy, who is from Rutland by way of Mars or Jupiter, doing a modern interpretive dance in an ultratight stretch suit to the accompaniment of flute music she herself had recorded. "Tell me that's not flaky," said Heuga.
Compared to Suzy, the other American girls were reasonably quiet. There were several reasons. Sandy Shellworth, 22, was worrying about two love interests—one with the young man back home, and one with a Swiss doctor from Berne. "She should worry more about giant slalom," said Ferries. Sandy combed her long straight hair and labored five hours over letters to her admirers. "I feel tortured," she said. So did Ferries. Shellworth's best finish was a 12th in downhill at Schruns. Penny McCoy, a pert blonde about as tall as a boot but far more fetching, took less time on her notes to Heuga. She scribbled them hastily on scratch paper and slipped them into Bob Beattie's parka for delivery, but she also thought about skiing, which is good because Penny can be as good as anyone in slalom. She was a third in the world championships in Portillo (SI, Aug. 15, 1966). Ferries also discovered notes from Penny on his pillow. They all exuded confidence, although Penny'sfifth place at Grindelwald was her best showing. "I am going to win," the notes would say, and Ferries would grin and go to sleep, no doubt counting girl skiers jumping over Alps.
Robin Morning, 19, whose smile bubbles more than Orsi's baths, was as preoccupied as the others, mainly with Penny's brother on the men's team, Dennis (Poncho) McCoy. Ah, youth. Robin was once traipsing through the country-side and found a leaf; it was poetic, it reminded her of Poncho, she put it in a book. "Well, that's just so touching it makes me sick," said Penny. And everyone giggled. Robin managed to get an eighth in slalom at Schruns while pressing her skis together.
For a while in Schruns, Austria, a remote ski village on the other side of the Arlberg Pass from St. Anton, it looked as if the girls were finally going to break through with a good result. Wendy Allen, 22, ran a bristling slalom and tied Nancy Greene for third place behind Goitschel and Famose but, as Americans do from time to time, she missed a gate up on the icy course and was disqualified. A cute little brunette who plays a concert piano and who has flashes of greatness in slalom, Wendy keeps Ferries bothered. "She doesn't really fire out. She thinks she's aggressive, but she isn't—not as much as Suzy or Robin or even Penny. But in or out of love, the American girls are going to be O.K.," Ferries argued. "They're better than we've had. They're slow starters. We were tired coming here from a tough camp at Vail. We don't have a Jean Saubert yet, but Suzy could win a downhill anytime, Wendy could win a giant slalom and Penny could win a slalom. And the bestpart is that back home we've got about 10 more who are just about as good as these."
The sudden success of Nancy Greene had the Americans as psyched and bewildered as it did the French and sagging Austrians. Nancy won the first two races of the big European season, a slalom and giant slalom at Oberstaufen. Then she went to Grindelwald and won the giant slalom and the downhill. "The more you win, the easier it is," she said. She fell in the slalom, and Annie Famose won. But Nancy went on to capture four out of five events.
There seemed to be three reasons for Nancy's explosion. First of all, Marielle Goitschel was just getting into condition from an ankle injury she suffered in December in Val-d'Is√®re. Second, Austria's Erika Schinegger, the best women's downhiller, suffered a minor injury at Oberstaufen. Third, Nancy Greene is racing better than ever and, as the racers philosophically put it, "This is her turn."
It should be. Nancy is 23, but she has been racing on the major circuit since 1960. She is short, with bangs, a sly grin on her lips and an Esso tiger pasted on her helmet. She is friendly but frank, a fiery competitor who will yell and slam her poles into the snow and weep at any racing disappointment. "She's great," says Bob Beattie. "She'll fight you to win. What's painful is that she grew up in Rossland [B.C.], only six miles from the U.S. I've been trying to get her to defect for five years."
When Nancy is right, no girl skis as fast. She has better technique in the high-speed turns and a finer feeling of the skis in downhill than Erika Schinegger. And in slalom she has a lighter touch and a quicker turn than either Goitschel or Famose. When she goes, she really goes. But she gives up strength to all three, especially to Schinegger, a bony, flatland farm girl. On the downhill Schinegger is a bull who goes, as Marielle Goitschel says, "Bang! Bang! Bang!" Marielle adds, "She's a maniac. She barely avoids death."
If Schinegger is a bull, Goitschel is no calf. She's almost as big and strong in her specialty, the slaloms, and what is likely to keep her ahead of Nancy Greene is her near-perfect form and technique, and supreme confidence. At Schruns, for example, Nancy couldn't help feeling her luck was running out—because of the four victories—and Marielle, back in top condition, was itching to beat her.
Said Nancy, "I've gotten cables from all over, from mayors of Canadian towns, from former racers, from the Governor General, everybody. It's been great. I'm going to put them in a scrap-book, and when I start losing I'll read them and maybe my confidence will come back."
And Marielle said, "She's going to lose because she doesn't think enough. It's all a chance with her. We think during a race, we French." Then she added comically, "But I'm going to win because of Jean-Claude Killy. He has won the Lauberhorn now, and they're saying he's the greatest in the world."
So Marielle won the downhill and slalom at Schruns, and if competition with home-town-boy Killy is what sets Marielle going, watch out. That weekend he also won the Hahnenkamm, knocking five seconds off the downhill record set last year by Karl Schranz.
But no one could deny that Alpine racing has an important new star who has finally come into her own—Nancy Greene. While Marielle had come on to beat her at last, Nancy had finished fourth in the Schruns downhill and third in the slalom. Not bad at all, and the Americans would have traded pants suits for it. More important, Nancy was still building up points in the World Cup race, which has the whole ski-racing community excited because of the added interest it has caused.
The World Cup is a new competition to be held annually to determine the best racers, men and women, in all events over an extended period of time—in this case, for a whole season or for roughly 10 big meets—from the Alps to the Rockies. Since a racer will count only his or her three best finishes in a slalom, giant slalom and downhill, Nancy Greene has a big start toward unseating Marielle Goitschel, particularly in giant slalom. Nancy has won two giant slaloms already. If she wins one more, she can do no worse than tie that section of the World Cup.
The big thing, however, is the overall World Cup championship, which will be won by the racer who accumulates the most points in all races at all 10 meets through the last one in late March at Jackson Hole, Wyo. When Nancy Greene left Europe last week, she was comfortably ahead of both Goitschel and Famose, who will cut into her lead while she goes home to race in Canada. But their rivalry will be renewed in the U.S. at Franconia, Vail and Jackson Hole a month later. It should be a thrilling match. And by then perhaps some American girls will be in the standings somewhere, although the chances are better that they will still be smiling, dancing and writing letters like all good teeny boppers should.