An air of calm lay over Innsbruck and all of the Tyrol last week, a sort of blanket of Olympian self-confidence. Part of it was the weather: for weeks Innsbruck had bathed in the warmth of the F√∂hn, the soft breeze that periodically streams over the Alps bringing midwinter Mediterranean thaws to Austria. Part of it was the season: few tourists were about and the lull made for relaxed traffic and unhurried lunches. But most responsible for the mood was the fact that preparations for the 1976 Winter Olympics were going on—and on—with scarcely a hitch or a hint of hard times. Given the thunderbolts and turbulence that accompany almost everything to do with the Olympics these days, Innsbruck was indeed a rare isle of tranquillity.
These are the Games that would have been Denver's. Following the shattering referendum defeat in Colorado in November of '72, the International Olympic Committee made the sane, if not particularly inspired, decision to return the 1976 Games to Innsbruck, which had staged the Olympics in 1964. With one year to go—the Games begin on Feb. 4, 1976—the logic of the move is evident.
Nearly everything—from downhill ski courses to skating stadium to ski jumping sites—is still in place from last time. And nearly everyone—from Olympic clerks and construction workers to ticket takers and black-booted Polizei—is alive and well, still living in Innsbruck and ready to leap back into the role he played 12 years ago. It was decided there was no need for the usual pre-Olympic dress rehearsal, replete with ceremonies and a program of competition involving all of the Olympic disciplines. Instead, Innsbruck is spending the winter of 1975 drifting serenely through a series of events spaced over a couple of months.
Early in January the refurbished 90-meter Bergisel ski jump was unveiled for an international competition. (Fittingly, Austria's Karl Schnabl won it.) There now are seats for 60,000 curved around the runout below the lip of the jump, which launches men high above the tiled roofs of Innsbruck's medieval cityscape. Even with the melting F√∂hn, which turned the runout to mud last week, the Bergisel renovation is an impressive addition to Olympic architecture.
February 10, 1975
But plainly the most stunning piece of Olympic work is the combined bobsled and luge course snaking down Patscher-kofel Mountain at Igls, the rich little resort town above Innsbruck. This run features a zinger called the Kreisel, which means child's top, a mind-blowing 280-degree loop that sends bobbers and lugers into a mad twist near the middle of the course. The bob run spills down the mountain like a piece of conceptual sculpture, an ever-changing chute of white ice and steel, ending its wiggles with a last turn on an eight-foot wall. The run cost about $5 million, and it is probably worth it, for it is as functional as it is foolhardy, as beautiful as it is expensive. The first international luge contests were held last weekend—and the East German women's team, considered best in the game, swept to a convincing one-two-three triumph. The first major bobsled races are scheduled for late this month.
The Nordic events in 1976 will be held in Seefeld, a stiff and high-priced resort town about 22 kilometers from Innsbruck that is favored by legions of mink-and knicker-clad middle-aged Germans. As in 1964, the cross-country ski courses wind through the black woods around Seefeld; last weekend an international 10-kilometer women's race was won by Finland's Marjatta Kajosmaa and in the men's 15-kilometer sprint, Thomas Magnusson of Sweden beat all comers. The 70-meter jump, a surprisingly tacky little structure compared to the lovely sweeping Bergisel, also is at this venue; in trials there, Schnabl scored again, indicating that next year's visitors might face a home-jump handicap.
The only other major events at Innsbruck so far in this shakedown season have been a pair of World Cup downhill races two weeks ago. The women competed on the demanding course at Axamer Lizum, a dramatic ski area about 22 kilometers above the Inn Valley in a section of the Alps filled with sheer rock faces and towers. The course was used in 1964 but had not been raced on since by world-class skiers. It definitely will be satisfactory again. Victory went to Switzerland's Marie-Theres Nadig, her first in World Cup since her two gold medals at Sapporo. The reigning downhill queen, Annemarie Moser-Proell, was second. During the Olympics, both men's and women's slaloms and giant slaloms also will be held at Axamer Lizum.
While the women raced at Axamer Lizum last month, the men tested the Patscherkofel, high above the bob run—the site of their 1976 downhill. The course proved to be technically demanding and, at a couple of points, a test of courage.
The race offered great expectations for the Austrian team. Franz Klammer, 21, the tall, dark farm boy from the mountains of Corinthia, had been unreal all season. Going in, Klammer had won five consecutive downhills, equaling a record set in 1967 by Jean-Claude Killy—and now, with great ease, he raced to victory No. 6. There was talk that Klammer was racing on magic skis, designed just for him and built at enormous cost by Rumpelstiltskin-like scientists at the Fischer Ski factory. No, said the Austrians, Franz used Fischer's normal racing skis, nothing expensive, much less magic.
Meanwhile, although there are excavations, scaffolding and construction mud all over town, there are no major crises in Innsbruck. The high-rise Olympic Village is efficiently next door to the 1964 Village, which is now a residential complex full of mamas pushing baby buggies and schoolchildren toting book bags. The ice-skating stadium has had a face-lifting on the outside and badly needs a coat of paint on the inside, but is in working order. A new press center will be built. There are a half-built new bridge over the Inn River and highways that still lead to nowhere, and there is some complaining among the citizens that the $100 million figure announced by Olympic leaders as the full cost of facilities and roads is far lower than the final price tag will be. There also is some concern that an Olympic lottery may not be attracting maximum interest among Tyroleans, even though its prizes include 1,000 tickets to Olympic events, a vacation home in Igls and a box containing a kilogram of pure gold.
The contrast between Innsbruck's well-oiled Olympic warmup and the gloom that has besieged Montreal could scarcely be more striking. Tales of labor and money troubles in Canada have been heard with fascination, even satisfaction, in Innsbruck; the bad news from North America makes it feel all the more snug and secure. Last week IOC Vice-President Willi Daume of Germany came to town to inspect ongoing construction. On the morning of his arrival, the national German newspaper Die Welt ran a story quoting Daume himself as saying that if the Montreal Games fell through, Munich would be delighted to jump in and play host once more.
Upset by the story, Daume held a press conference and rather circuitously denied the whole idea by saying that he and the Lord Mayor of Munich had spoken on the phone after it was printed and had agreed that to have the Games in Munich would be "anticlimactic, among other things." Daume said he had visited Canada recently; he felt "very positive about Montreal"; he had detected "a ground-swell of Olympic enthusiasm in Canada." But he spoke in a somber way about the strikes that have snarled construction in Montreal.
"You know, the problems of unions are problems of the free world," Daume said. "It would be interesting if only totalitarian countries are able to hold the Olympic Games of the future for this reason, wouldn't it?" He went on to say that if Montreal could not pull together its rapidly unraveling Olympic fabric within the next two weeks and prove to the IOC that it is capable of producing the Summer Games of '76, the IOC might have to "poll all the cities which have had Olympic Games in the past and find one which is willing to hold them again."
At Daume's press conference the B√ºrgermeister of Innsbruck, a ruddy, white-haired old politician named Alois Lugger, sat calmly at his elbow, smiling a little. When Daume finished talking, someone asked Lugger if he had anything to add, and he merely waved his hand, shook his head and smiled—the very picture of Olympian self-confidence combined with a huge portion of Teutonic contentment.