In his long and controversial career, General Charles de Gaulle has never been accused of being a pantywaist, but it was not until recently that his intense fixation on sport came into the open. If one is to believe what one sees in the French press, Monsieur le Président likes nothing better than to sink into his favorite easy chair and watch soccer or Rugby or track and field on television. One gets the impression that only his advancing years keep De Gaulle from playing touch Rugby on the lawn of the Elysée Palace like a Gallic Kennedy. According to one report, the General even looks forward to handing out athletic awards, usually considered the dreariest of chores by politicians. Certainement, he failed to show up at the exposition of chrysanthemums, but there is no power on earth that could keep him from a sports presentation. "They've done everything but run a picture of De Gaulle in soccer boots and shorts," said an American businessman stationed in the south of France. "You get the idea that the first thing he puts on in the morning is his sweat socks."
The reason for all the new image-making, of course, is the forthcoming Olympic year. The French are trying to rebound from a debacle, the 1967 pre-Olympic meeting at Grenoble, and when French pride is touched nowadays, stand back. "All we are shooting for this time is perfection," said Michel ("Call me Mike") Jacquemain, one of the big movers and shakers in the preparations now going on for the 1968 Winter Games at Grenoble. "Each morning the workers who have not achieved perfection are lined up and shot, 11,000 of them so far, but if the result is a wonderful Olympics, it will be worth all the bloodshed."
The result will be a wonderful Olympics, if maniacal determination and millions of foot-pounds of work and thousands of hours of cerebration add up to anything at all. The French have patted and graded and manicured and aligned and realigned and smoothed and polished the 1968 Winter Olympic sites with a frightening dedication that some say comes straight down from the top, from Le Grand Charles himself.
Grenoble, the host town, has been all but sacked in the process, but Grenoble is a town that needed sacking. Almost surrounded on all sides by the French Alps, Grenoble is a sort of Indianapolis on the rocks, the kind of town to which package tours allot one day. The fuss and bother of the Olympic Games have brought nothing but long-range benefit to the town, but not everybody in Grenoble has a long-range mind. The homme in the street is full of wisecracks:
November 13, 1967
"We survived all the wars only to be destroyed by the Olympics."
"If they write a book called Is Grenoble Burning? the answer will be yes."
"The man who designed the new Olympic buildings said he was sorry he couldn't attend the dedication, but his kindergarten class was going to the zoo that day."
A candy butcher straight out of P√®re Goriot pulled angrily at his mustache and proclaimed: "Am I selling one extra nougat because of this Olympic business? No! My customers come from the same old neighborhood. There will be no Olympic visitors there. But, nevertheless, I have to get stuck in the traffic jams, I have to breathe the air full of cement dust, I have to smell the manure on the new grass, I have to push my way through the crowds, I have to listen to the jack-hammers from 7 in the morning till 7 at night. And what do I get for all this sacrifice? A 20% increase in my tax! Zut alors, I am one lucky Frenchman, is it not so?"
The din, day and night, is earsplitting. Said a petite Parisienne, Florence Fourty, as she prepared to cut short her stay in Grenoble, "How can anyone sleep in this town?"
"I know they complain," said a high official of the French Olympic committee, "but when the Games are over and gone, Grenoble will be 20 years ahead of schedule. Anyway, do you know what the Egyptian people said when work was started on the Great Pyramid? They said: 'Cut out all that racket!' "
"Honest to goodness," an American visitor said, "the French are getting to be the Chinese of Europe. Everything is prestige, saving face, looking good all the time." And if ever a nation lost face and prestige simultaneously, it was France at the pre-Olympic meeting in Grenoble last February. The West German, Swiss and Austrian teams pulled out in a mighty Teutonic huff, complaining that their accommodations were fit for dogs, but barely. The weather alternated between subtropical and subarctic. The bobsled run at Alpe d'Huez turned out to be a mistake on the order of the Maginot Line, and the downhill ski run at Chamrousse routinely deposited the world's best skiers on their derrieres. Even some of the local participants gave up in disgust. 'It has become a competition between the French and the Greeks," said one pert French contestant, loading her skis on the top of her Renault and heading out of town.
The reverberations came like cannon fire. "We had expected difficulties, to be sure, but not scandals," said the director, Dr. Robert Héraud. L'Equipe, the French sports newspaper, editorialized under the heading NOBLESSE OBLIGE: "The affair is very serious. The situation has been abundantly exploited outside our country. In the face of this scandal, this incident must at least show that a great deal of effort remains to be done in view of the Olympic Games. There is not a second to lose."
"In certain offices in Paris," Mike Jacquemain recalled, "there were people who said, 'Look, we don't want to know whether it was your fault, the Pope's fault or Nasser's fault. Do not let it happen again!' "
Armand Massard, president of the French Olympic committee, said, "The prestige of France is at stake in the eyes of the world."
Another Olympic official said in confidential tones, "I am not exactly sure who provided the first impulse of action, except that he had a high tenor voice and the word grandeur was heard several times. I am told that the telephone wires fused and had to be replaced." After the call, the whole ponderous mechanism of French sporting bureaucracy was junked in favor of experts from every walk of life, private and otherwise. Jacquemain, a hotshot travel agent from Nice, was brought in to take care of visitors to the Winter Games. The chief stewardess of Air France was invited to head a staff of Olympic hostesses. The city editor of the Dauphiné Libéré, a newspaper in Grenoble, was put to work handing out Scotch and press releases to reporters. Roger Vadim, the film director and perennial bridegroom (Brigitte Bardot, Annette Stroyberg and, currently, Jane Fonda), was hired to take charge of "entertainment." A brain trust from the navy department was drafted to work on commissary problems. French tourist agents were called home from all over the world, and others were dispatched to Innsbruck, to Cortina and even to Squaw Valley to find out what went wrong in previous Winter Olympics.
Unfortunately, there was just so much that the French Olympic officials could do about Grenoble, the host city. Perhaps the nicest thing about the town is its name. Twirl it about on the tongue: Grenoble. It has a pleasant lilt: Gre-no-ble, with the last syllable barely pronounced. Grenoble conjures visions of the boy Stendhal, born Henri Beyle, playing happily at the knee of his grandp√®re in the town of his birth; of Hector Berlioz, who loved "excessively, furiously, outrageously" in Grenoble; of Choderlos de Laclos and his Liaisons Dangereuses.
The political history of the town is equally memorable. One is told of the day in the 18th century when Louis XVI's trail boss rode toward Grenoble to tell the people to smarten up and obey the king's laws. "So's your old man!" cried the citizens, peering down at the governor from their rooftops, and they pelted him out of town with tiles. Since that time the phrase conduite de Grenoble has been in popular use throughout France. Directly untranslatable, it means "the bum's rush." When a bartender decides that you are becoming obnoxious, he tells you to cool it or you will be handed a conduite de Grenoble. Such is the order of the city's contributions to the rich French language. One is also given to understand that the French revolution was born at a meeting not in Paris but in the Dauphiné, of which Grenoble is the capital.
The trouble is that all this history is small consolation when the fogs and smogs of industrial Grenoble hunker down on the city as though from an inverted bowl of mushroom soup, or when one looks about at the tawdry high-rise cement-gray apartment architecture that symbolizes the town's abrupt wrenching into the 20th century, or when one comes up against the intense provincialism of some of the inhabitants. Nowadays Grenoble likes to advertise itself as "the city of Stendhal," which indeed it is, except that the author of Le Rouge et le Noir and Le Chartreuse de Parme got out of town as fast as his stubby legs could carry him when he came of age, and he never returned except for short visits to his relatives. Stendhal hated Grenoble and the people of the Dauphiné to his dying day. He characterized the city as a dull, drab, colorless place peopled by the petit bourgeois and the nouveau riche.
Time has changed Grenoble, but not entirely for the better. The university now has a student body of 18,000, and all over town there are technical centers and laboratories where important research is under way. But the scent of the chemical industry hangs in the air when the wind is wrong, and one finds a ring of dirt on the inside of one's shirt collar after a few hours' wear.
The population is of two distinct types: the old Grenoblois, a mountaineering sort of person, stolid and quiet, of whom other Frenchmen say, "Even his breath comes out cold," and the new bourgeois, the booster, the go-ahead provincial who is pushing for la journée continue, "the continuous day," a workday made up of nine hours with 45 minutes off for lunch instead of the traditional French 10-hour day with two hours of food and relaxation. "And we will get it, too," says a Jaycee type of young man, his eyes fixed unblinking on the future. "Grenoble always moves ahead. Now we have 250,000 people. By the year 2000 Grenoble will be a city of half a million, all of them on the 45-minute lunch. Don't forget: Grenoble is a city in motion. We received the blue ribbon of construction for putting up more new buildings per capita since World War II than any other French city." Yes, the visitor is almost constrained to say, and it looks it.
But no matter. The tradition of the Winter Olympics is that it should be headquartered in a town that needs a transfusion, thus serving two purposes, and Grenoble meets the requirement. In the month after the Olympic athletes go home, 3,000 of the city's underprivileged families will move en masse into new housing put up for the Games. "Sure, we could have had the Olympics in beautiful little towns like Alpe d'Huez or Val-d'Is√®re," an official explained, "and then what would we have done with 3,000 new housing units when the Games were over? It would be like putting up 3,000 low-rent apartments for poverty-stricken people of Squaw Valley."
When all the skiing and bobsledding and ice skating and jumping and luging are over, Grenoble will find itself with any number of improvements: a new town hall (metal and glass and gray cement and formless statuary), a new prefecture of police, a new house of culture and conservatory of music, a new major hotel, a new railroad station, countless new car parks and hundreds of miles of first-class roads. It will become one of the first cities in France to boast a belt highway running entirely around the city and functioning both as a bypass and a rapid connection between major auto routes in and out. In other French towns the motorist has two choices when he approaches the city limits: he can take a main route marked Centre Ville, which will take him unfailingly into the traffic jam in the middle of the business district, or he can follow a route marked Poids Laurels (heavy weights), which will convey him on a roundabout tour of the outskirts of town, past the home of the defeated candidate in the last mayoral election, on to the city dump and finally disgorge him on the other side of town. In either case, getting through a French town by car is all too often like getting out of Yankee Stadium after a Giant game. "That is one of the nicest things about the effect of the Olympics," said a visiting Belgian businessman in the lobby of Grenoble's Park Hotel. "After the Games, you will be able to take the belt highway and avoid Grenoble. I call that genuine progress!"
The effect of all the road-building has been to tie Grenoble into a vast traffic jam for the better part of a year. There are times when the city resembles a huge car park, with nothing moving from one end of town to the other. In the late afternoons the inhabitants like to line the rails of their high-rise apartment buildings and watch the frustration below. Rewarding scenes flash before one's eyes with regularity. Consider: six lanes of traffic are inching along Boulevard Maréchal Foch, and one lone traffic cop stands at the busy corner of Rue Marceau, where three more lanes of traffic are trying to move across. In his black uniform with white cuffs and white-banded hat, the policeman looks like a domino in a high surf. He runs from car to car, he points, he beckons, he implores, he wags his fingers. But no matter how he tries, he cannot keep the Grenoblois from wedging their cars into the intersection and blocking the flow in all directions. To make a bad situation worse, the street is ripped up, and at this very intersection Boulevard Maréchal Foch changes abruptly from six lanes to three, presenting a merger problem of indescribable proportions. Still, the policeman struggles manfully, occasionally extricating a few dozen cars from the mess and sending them on their way. But what is this green monstrosity coming into sight far down the boulevard? It is a lumber truck pulling a lumber trailer, the whole articulated rig stretching a good 80 feet. The cop looks. The camion lurches forward. And just before it reaches the tangled intersection, the driver starts blinking for a left turn. The policeman throws his hands in the air and walks off.
One can imagine the effect of such situations on the nerves of the townspeople of Grenoble. "Olympic Games, merde!" said one. "We are the first city in France to improve on the sens unique, the one-way street. Here in Grenoble, cradle of the French revolution, center of atomic industry, we have invented the no-way street! You speed along at zero kilometers an hour, and when you get where you are going you are exactly where you started!"
This same citizen harbors nothing but suspicion toward an electronic computer that will run the city's traffic system during the two weeks of the Olympics. "The experts think it is all so simple," he said. "They feed information into the computer from various places around the town—the number of cars, direction of flow, the length of the waiting lines—and then the machine sets up advantageous detours and adjusts the traffic lights. What do they think we are? Germans? You cannot regulate French traffic by machine. What will the machine do about my friend Jean-Baptiste who parks his car in the middle of the street to run to the pissoir? Or my wife who makes the—how you call it?—U-turns across the islands of the traffic? It will be chaos!" Well, it will not be chaos, if only because the French government is absolutely hell-bent to have every last road completed long before Olympics time, and also because most of the Olympic action is going to take place in the sticks anyway, in beautiful and colorful venues like Alpe d'Huez and Villard-de-Lans and Autrans in the Vercors. As soon as one drives out of Grenoble, one sees the truth of a line in the town's promotional brochure: "Every street ends in a mountain and every mountain has a new surprise." There is one mountain where the monks keep busy making hooch. They call it Chartreuse. On another there are monuments to a French Resistance hospital, located underground and totally destroyed by the Germans in World War II. One mountain boasts a cave almost a mile deep. There are oxen pulling wagons, bubbly streams, genuine milkmaids milking genuine cows. And there is food, some of the best food in France, which is to say, some of the best anywhere. Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was born in the Dauphiné near Belley, and his influence lingers. The 45-minute lunch, indeed! How can one pay proper homage in 45 minutes to dishes like pike with cream, soufflé of crayfish, gratin dauphinois with larks or quail or chamois, cheeses like Saint-Marcellin and Sassenage blue, local wines like Sainte-Marie-d'Alloix and Seyssel? Eating is a shared pleasure in the restaurants of the Dauphiné.
Unknown myriads of visitors will be spilling into Grenoble's restaurants and hotels for the Winter Games, and one can understand the mixed emotions of the locals. At first, there was much gleeful hand-rubbing, especially by businessmen, who figured to make a killing. Then the government announced a price fix. All business establishments in Grenoble and environs were ordered to maintain their price levels of February 1967. How could anybody prove what the February levels were? Simple, said the government. Back in February, when nobody was paying attention, undercover teams of investigators had visited every bar, every hotel, every restaurant in the Dauphiné and had come away with a full price list from each. Any speedy operator who tried to boost the tariffs now would find himself closed down for the two weeks of the Olympics. The locals inquired as to what fascistic law the government thought it was functioning under. High officials in Paris trundled out something called "Special Authority for Special Events," and that was that. Even the taxi drivers, those traditional French bandits, will be affected. "Anybody who thinks that a cabdriver is trying to take advantage of him," Mike Jacquemain explained, "has only to demand that the driver take him to the nearest police station. That usually ends the problem. But if the driver heads for the station, beware! It can only mean that this time he is in the right, that he is charging you the legitimate 50% extra for travel after 10 o'clock at night, or the legitimate extra for baggage or something like that. In which case, you'd better just quit arguing and pay!"
It fell to Jacquemain to figure out where to house the expected torrent of visitors, variously estimated from 50,000 to 100,000. "The hotels of Grenoble simply weren't up to it," Jacquemain explained. "They're adequate for the needs of the town, for businessmen stopping over for a day or two at a time and tourist buses pulling in at night and leaving in the morning, but not for the crowds that turn up at Olympic Games. On the other hand, it was the same at Innsbruck, at Cortina, at Squaw Valley. All those places had a hell of a time accommodating people. There never has been a Winter Olympics without complaints that somebody got lousy rooms, and there's a very simple reason. The Olympics for summer can be held in big cities like Mexico City, Rome, Melbourne, and even then you have problems. But in a city of Winter Olympics you must be near mountain resorts, and the largest cities you can find near mountain resorts are still bound to be small cities, and that is what you've got to work with."
Jacquemain and his fellow specialists lined up every hotel room they could find within a two-hour train ride of Grenoble and still came up 5,000 beds short of 20,000. "So we took ads in the local newspapers. We wrote that we knew Grenoble had the reputation for being a cold city, like all mountain cities, that people didn't open their doors and their hearts easily, but could we overcome the barrier just this one time? And we did. Every day dozens of people came to the city hall offering accommodations for the Olympic visitors. Of course, some of them were just out to get rich quick. They'd offer an attic room with no toilet for 50 francs ($10) a night. We inspected every accommodation, and the ones that were substandard were put into our files with a big black spot in the upper right corner. It was what you call a blackball. On the other hand there were families that offered very nice rooms and said they would not accept money. We had to turn this down as well; it presents too many problems. Let's say you come back to your free lodging at 2 in the morning after celebrating your country's great victory in ice hockey and the owner says, 'Well, that's fine. We've been waiting up all night for you, and now you can sleep on the porch!' We want our visitors to be able to return home when they want to, and if you pay a little something for your room you're entitled to come in when you want. We didn't want anybody treating our guests rudely and then saying, 'Well, he's not paying, so what?' "
Jacquemain and his crew have already assigned 500 Czechs and 300 Intourist clients from the Soviet Union to inexpensive quarters in a seminary in Voreppe and a church school in Montfleury. "But first we spoke to the abbé and we told him that these people are probably atheists, by definition, and we asked him if he could resist the temptation just this once. The abbé said, 'We will try not to indoctrinate them if they do not try to indoctrinate us.' So we conveyed this information to the Czechs and the Russians, and they agreed that nobody would try to sell anything to anybody!"
With Mike Jacquemain solving public accommodations crises left and right, others turned to the ticklish problem of where to put the thousands of athletes and their coaches, the precise problem that stirred up the ruckus in the 1967 trials. Not that the French have ever admitted that they had anything to be ashamed of last February. The current line among French sporting officials is that the crisis of accommodations was a phony, a red herring thrown out by Austrian, West German and Swiss coaches who knew they were going to lose and were seeking an out. "Let us consider some facts," said Dr. Héraud, who took most of the rap in 1967. "The Austrians announced in advance that they were going to send a delegation of six to the men's downhill site at Chamrousse, and instead they showed up at midnight with 14, and most of them were not even athletes. When they were told that the nonathletes could be housed elsewhere, they said no, they all wanted to stay together. So, naturally, they had to be crowded. The next day everything could have been ironed out easily, but the Austrians said they didn't want to be bothered. Meanwhile, we have reason to believe they were conspiring with the Swiss and West German teams to stir up an excuse to avoid competition. Why? Because one week earlier the French B team had beaten the Austrian A team, and they knew they were going to lose in a large way. So first they used the press. I remember one picture in a foreign newspaper that showed 10 athletes crammed into one small room. But we can show by the very faces in the photograph that eight of the so-called athletes were people who were just hauled off the street for the picture. They used documents like this to prove that they were treated badly. But if they have been treated badly, why have the Swiss already applied for exactly the same quarters this year?"
The French authorities were especially galled by the fact that after the annoyed delegations had flounced off—"Tonight we sleep in friendly Switzerland," said the Austrian coach as a parting shot—the whole winter sports Establishment tended to side with them. Jean-Claude Killy, the top French skier, and Annie Famose, the slalom star, said publicly that they would have done exactly the same as the visitors, and the Napoleonic French coach, Honoré Bonnet, backed them up. The Italian coach said, "We have been ordered by our federation to race. We are obeying as we must. But it is possible that during the downhill our racers might stop halfway down the course to watch the others pass, because we feel ourselves allied with the Germans, the Austrians and the Swiss."
"What is so new about the Italians stopping halfway?" asked one Frenchman, but most remained steadfastly on the side of the affronted visitors. "It was simply because our own people believed what they read in the newspapers," said Dr. Héraud in the cool light of retrospect, "and the papers said that the French had been unfair to everybody but themselves. It was very comforting to certain teams to make the French appear as the villains. Even our own government believed the story for a while. I myself, every time I bumped into somebody in Paris, had to give a complete explanation. The Ministry of Youth and Sport finally sent a delegation to the downhill site at Chamrousse—I think they were encouraged a little by President de Gaulle—and they discovered quite quickly that the accommodations crisis was entirely artificial. But by then it was too late to undo the blow to our prestige."
At the Xth Winter Olympics next February, there will be no accommodations crisis, either real or fictional; there will be no repercussions about which team is staying in a three-star hotel and which team in hovels, or which team has one toilet for each 10 athletes and which team has deluxe bathrooms. All participants—athletes, coaches, ski-waxers, skate-sharpeners, water boys, timers, judges and other plenipotentiaries—will be housed in Olympic villages at Grenoble, Chamrousse and Autrans. The only exceptions will be a handful of bobsledders and tobogganists, less than 100 in all, who will have to make do in hotels at their own venues, miles from the major action. "We are taking no chances this time," said Dr. Héraud, a handsome, excitable man whose voice tends to go off in a squeak at the end of his sentences, like the baker talking to the gendarme in prewar French movies. "We are saying to each country in advance, 'Tell us how many you will be bringing and we will prepare exactly equal quarters for all. But if you bring extra people, as some of you did last year, they will be absolutely forbidden to live in Olympic villages!' We are setting aside three days in December for journalists of all countries to visit the athletes' accommodations; if they have any complaints, they can write them at that time. And on top of that, we are inviting an inspector from each country to look at the accommodations in advance. So where is the trouble going to come from this year?"
Well, some small criticism might be heard from students of esthetics. Chamrousse, the village where men's and women's Alpine events will take place, has been called the painted lady of French ski resorts. Until recently, it was a hodgepodge of A-frames and chalets and pop stands and ninth-class hotels, the whole devoid of form, having "a place in the world of skiing but peripherally rather than centrally," as the London Times put it. One American described the architecture and layout of Chamrousse as "half-Aspen." But the French have applied themselves to the problem, and the painted lady has been refurbished and face-lifted almost to the very edge of respectability. Two entirely separate road systems now link the village to Grenoble, 19 miles down the mountain, and traffic will flow in a continuous belt through the competition areas. Modern shopping centers have sprung up, with arcades to protect window-shoppers from the winter winds, and dozens of small and handsome lodges have been built. Clearly, Chamrousse intends to stay in business on a larger scale after the Olympic hubbub dies down.
As for the Alpine sites themselves, the French are fond of saying that they have moved mountains. Some 300,000 cubic meters of earth were shifted around on the slalom trails alone, and major improvements were made in the women's downhill, which ends smack in the center of Chamrousse. The men's downhill run may well take its place as one of the finest in the world, and the French are treating it like a Cecil B. de Mille production. Soldiers of the French army walk up and down the slopes, policing the area as though six feet of snow were not going to cover it all up anyway. From the first snowfall, around late November or early December, a contingent of men will be stationed on the course, their shovels at the ready, tamping the snow base into shape. By the time the first skier runs the course in February, the snow will have been hand-curried for two months.
All this superattention to detail on the men's downhill was the idea of Ski Expert Paul Briglia, a handsome, mustached sportsman who functions as the director of sport for the Winter Games. "Last time there were suggestions that we made the course so difficult that only the French could get down," Briglia said, chuckling. "But that is simply not true. It's just that last time the pre-Olympic events were handled by a small group of people with a limited budget and this time the Olympic events are being handled by France. Last time the course was not ready; we do not deny. Certain bumps were too sharp. Certain turns were not perfected. It was a difficult course, even for the French."
Last February, Britain's Jeremy Palmer-Tomkinson stood at the bottom of the men's downhill, brushing snow from his pants, and said, "What this course wants is a major bashing with shovels. It is terribly rutty and full of moguls. After all, there are other nations who want to race in addition to the five expert Alpine powers. The idea of the downhill is to get everyone down, not to kill them." Japan's Yoshiharu Fukuhara crossed the finish line on his backside. "I fell down and broke my skis and lost my glasses," he said. "The Japanese are not so good at downhill racing."
This year's visitors to the downhill course near Chamrousse have pronounced it just about perfect. Les bosses du coq (the bumps of the rooster), a series of humps that consistently troubled skiers last year, have been softened slightly, as have the Emile Allais bumps, two artificial cofferdams inserted just ahead of the finish line to make matters more interesting at the end and named after the Cardinal Richelieu of French skiing. "Last year the Allais bumps came to a sharp point, and we actually put two Japanese skiers into orbit," a construction foreman said at the site. "They appear over Chamrousse every morning at 2 o'clock, calling for an interpreter."
The course still begins with a chute that comes off the top of a shack installed for timers and skiers at the beginning of the run, 7,319 feet from the finish line, and runs down a very steep pitch for several hundred feet. The first serious problem for the skier comes at a sharp right turn at the end of this pitch. "If he makes that, at least he will live," said Briglia. "The maximum gradient is only 65%, and the average is only 29%, and the total vertical drop is a mere half mile. Who can complain? But while we have modified the course somewhat, we have still left the fast line for anyone who chooses to take it. In other words, the course has been made more forgiving, but for the superior skier it is even faster than it was last year, when Killy got down in two minutes and six seconds. We expect that mark to be broken."
The last great problem facing France's brain trust of Olympic planners was the bobsled run, an $800,000 headache that snakes down the shoulder of a mountain high in the Grandes Rousses in the popular resort town of Alpe d'Huez. There are certain Frenchmen who have been advised by their doctors never to think about the bobsled run at Alpe d'Huez, and certain competitors who can still show you their scars. "You can just imagine how we feel," said the easygoing Briglia. "We wanted to build the last word in bobsled runs, so we hired Italian Architect Luciano Galli to make the design. Not that there are many bobsled-course designers to choose from—a man would starve to death if that's all he did for a living—but Galli is the undisputed best of the best. He designed the course at Cervinia, and that is a very high recommendation. So he laid out our course at Alpe d'Huez, and it was a—what do you call it?—a lemon!"
In fact, the bob run at Alpe d'Huez was so bad as to be almost unusable. Its curves were too narrow and tight, and there were sharp drops coming out of turns that tended to send the sleds into uncontrollable spins. The layout dropped 459 feet in less than a mile and included a labyrinth, six hairpins or near-hairpins and four high-speed curves, and practically every foot of the chute was flawed in one way or another. During the four-man bob trials, only the Italian team was able to get to the bottom. The two-man runs produced so many injuries that the French press took to calling the event "un massacre." To round off the glorious bobsled meeting, little Alpe d'Huez began living up to its reputation as the world's sunniest ski resort, and every afternoon the course was turned into tapioca. The authorities took a brief fling at holding the runs at night, under an eerie glow from sodium-vapor lamps, but finally gave up and canceled the whole card. Said the maintenance foreman: "The course is an $800,000 mistake. The best thing to do with it is break it up and put it into trucks and drive it back down to Grenoble." The American racing veteran Fred Fortune had a simpler solution: "Blasting!"
But the French neither broke up the course nor blasted. "We managed to change the entire profile of the run, and it only cost a few hundred thousand dollars," said Paul Briglia. "We found that we could correct the worst turns by simply widening them, by adding concrete up the sides. We also banked the course as little as a few inches and as much as four feet more. This means that the bobsledders will have a multiple choice of risks, just like the downhill skiers. Teams that want to take the most direct line can take it. Others can go farther up the wall and use the banks more. It will slow their time, but at least they'll get down."
As a final correction, the French built three refrigerating units into the course. "Now it doesn't matter what the sun does," said Briglia. "The run will stay frozen even in temperatures of 100°. No, that has never been done before, but then we are doing a lot of things that have never been done before."
What problems remain?
"One little item," said Dr. Robert Heraud. "We call it neige. You call it snow."
In the Place Victor Hugo, a pleasant little square surrounded by the honk and holler of growing Grenoble, the citizens gathered in knots and scanned the sky for snow. "It is coming soon," said the little old lady. "I feel it in the toes." All the cronies nodded assent, because the little old lady's toes could not be wrong, must not be wrong, about such an important matter.
In his office in the gleaming new city hall, a member of Mayor Hubert Dubedout's staff looked westward into a cloudless sky and said, "What can be done is done. Maintenant c'est dans les mains du Grand Seignuer. Now it is in the hands of God. The rest we did ourselves."