With Jean-Claude Killy getting publicly charged in a paternity suit, with Karl Schranz resorting to psych tricks on the other racers, with Austria's Gerhard Nenning and Switzerland's Dumeng Giovanoli proving they were not hallucinations after all, and with film stars Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale swirling through the discoth√®ques of intriguing Kitzb√ºhel while the local movie house featured local boy Toni Sailer in something entitled Das Grosse Gl√ºck, it seemed that the whole world of Alpine ski racing had fallen out of its tree on the eve of the Winter Olympics.
All of this was amplified by the fact that this was the week of the Hahnenkamm, skiing's equivalent of the Masters. And it is not likely that there will be another Hahnenkamm like this one until a few winters have passed. After some warmup races on other alps where the results looked suspect and certainly inconclusive, Kitzb√ºhel was where the world's premier racers really got serious, and where national pride almost got the best of everyone. It was where Killy certainly spent the most testing week of his career, regaining the World Cup lead, and also where Nenning and Giovanoli, who were thought to be doing it with mirrors a few days before, convinced the world that they deserve to be considered as big favorites in Grenoble along with Killy.
On a sunny but cold Saturday, with the course lined with everything from full-length minks to glued-on stretch suits, Nenning careened down the fastest, steepest downhill in Europe right behind Killy and beat the Frenchman by half a second in a wonderfully exciting race. It was Nenning's second straight big downhill win.
A total of 12 racers had preceded them on the start list, and America's Billy Kidd was in a handsome second place behind France's Bernard Orcel. It was obvious that this was a course for the best skiers only—an icy, fast trail featuring a dangerous drop called the mousefall, some demanding turns, and a final schuss-bump-schuss where a device had been clocking the athletes at 78 mph.
January 29, 1968
When it is announced that Killy is on a course, there is always a murmur in the crowd. This time, there were some who had to wonder how he was going to react to all of the intrigue of the previous days in Kitzb√ºhel. For one thing, three days before the race Killy himself had pulled a nifty in an effort to psych the other racers. Slipping onto the mountain ahead of everyone the day practice opened, he took a couple of warmup runs. When he got back to the top of the course, ostensibly for his first practice spin, all of the other racers from 22 different countries were standing around, including Nenning and Schranz, wondering how difficult the Hahnenkamm would be this year.
Killy quickly brushed past everyone, mumbled something like, "What are we waiting for?" and practically nose-dived down the mountain, almost as if he could handle it on tennis shoes. He was out of sight in seconds, and the other racers were talking about it for hours.
Later on in the week, Schranz, who has probably won more races over the last 10 years than anyone in history, decided he would try a psych of his own. Austrian psych tricks are not as clever as French ones, however. What Schranz did was get on a téléphérique with Killy and Billy Kidd, among others, and start talking about something racers never discuss when they are preparing to make a run—crashing. "It was the worst fall I've ever seen," Karl was saying. "He went over and over and over, and it was just terrible. I didn't think he would live. He must have fallen half a mile down the piste. It shows you how dangerous it can be here."
Killy stood listening without expression, but Kidd couldn't hide a grin. Schranz was trying to tell Killy that one of his French teammates, Pierre Stamos, was practically killed by a tumble he had just taken. Killy and Kidd knew better. They had seen Stamos finish standing up. As it turned out, he had not actually fallen but had only sat back, and down, and recovered.
If Killy could survive Karl's efforts to unnerve him, no one could be sure how he would survive his next episode. The night before the downhill, two attorneys and a policeman entered his room at the Pension Reisch, demanded $1,300 child support for a local girl who has been claiming that her five-year-old daughter is Killy's. There is something about Austrian law which says the police have to confiscate some property in order to bring suit, so Killy's intruders carefully managed to leave his skis and took a toilet kit.
Well, now, none of this helped improve relations between France and Austria, whose normal relations—strained—are not particularly helped by the fact that the two nations are the major competitors anyhow for domination of the ski world. The French hurled blame at "Austrian scandal sheets" but Killy himself was not all that bothered; it has happened before, only out of print.
Said French Coach Honoré Bonnet, "Since he has been a star, they have got after him here. Killy is not the father. He has been suing an Austrian paper for starting the rumor in the first place."
And to this a close friend of Killy's father added, "If it were true, would he keep coming back to Kitzb√ºhel?"
Even if any of this was on his mind, Jean-Claude raced the downhill exquisitely. When he flashed into view he was nearly two seconds ahead of everyone on the intermediate clock. And as he crossed the finish he was crushed by dozens of the same reporters and spectators who had been searching for Claudia Cardinale all week. They didn't stay long. In a couple of minutes the public address announcer began laying on a lot of Achtungs and screaming that Nenning was heading home faster than Killy.
And here came Nenning. He bent into a deep tuck and rocked up and down, squeezing his skis against the snow, and the eyes of the thousands had to switch from Nenning to the clock and back to Nenning, and finally to the clock where he was that half second better. He finished amid a massive chorus of something which sounds like a prolonged "Oh" and passes for an Austrian cheer.
Later, Killy conceded that he had raced well but that Nenning was "fantastic." Said Jean-Claude, "Nenning has the confidence now."
In Sunday's slalom, Nenning fell early in the first run and Killy almost did, slipping outside the track, then slipping backwards and getting into a position that perhaps no other racer could have recovered from. But Killy did and finished the course. Dumeng Giovanoli had a smooth first run, however, and a solid lead on Killy. In the second run, he steamed down with another smoothie and locked up his second straight slalom victory. Killy made a strong effort but was too far behind to catch a good man and wound up third behind Karl Schranz. Still, he won the Hahnenkamm combined championship with his second and third places and also took over the World Cup lead with 80 points to Giovanoli's 77, and Nenning's 64, through the two downhills, two slaloms and two giant slaloms that have been run on the World Cup schedule. So now the last big weekend before Grenoble was over. Killy seemed pleased that he had recovered from a dismal showing in Switzerland. "I have been payingfor a Christmas layoff, but I feel better," he said.
Almost everybody was happy. The Austrians had Nenning and Schranz up there big in the World Cup standings, a youngster named Alfred Matt was continuing to sparkle in slalom, and their two splendid girls, Gertrud Gabl and Olga Pall, were still winning more regularly than any French girl. It seemed as if Austria had fully recovered from two bad years. The Swiss, in turn, were hardly the disappointments in icy Kitzb√ºhel that other teams thought they would be. They placed three men in the top 10 in the downhill, and Giovanoli was spectacular.
Even the Americans were pleased. Kidd, not yet pressing for speed, wound up sixth in the downhill. After being sidelined by injuries for a full year, he was hanging in there in sixth place in the overall World Cup standings and getting better all the time.