Out of the whirligig of skis and skates and rumbling bobsleds, shining sharp moments emerged, to be frozen in memory: crystalline evocations of the mood and texture of the 12th Winter Olympics. At times, in the midst of the great noncommittal mountains, there were displays of nationalism, but on the whole the chill of partisanship was thawed in the warmth of superior sport.
The vertical valor of Franz Klammer's slap-'n-dash downhill set the tone for the Games. Everyone had to go wild. Italy's Piero Gros showed his mettle with a giant slalom that would have done credit to Ferrari—no kin to the drink he guzzled sloppily after he won his gold medal. The snow apes of the slopes drank it all in with glee from their treetop perches.
A touch of the old Euro-American hunting ethos cropped up in the biathlon, where the crackle of .223 cartridges punctuated the hiss of cross-country skis. And the look of utter exhaustion, after a long trek over an arduous Nordic course, was a common sight. Anguish and exhilaration kept pace with one another.
There were pratfalls too, as East Germany's Anett Poetzschhpinkly attested in her final free-skating program. But for every downturn there was an uplift, as the jumpers demonstrated on their lofty leaps from the 70-and 90-meter hills. In the face of such flights, it's a wonder the judges could focus on form.
February 23, 1976
All about there was evidence of scientific advances. For example, West Germany's Horst Freese wore a new rubber frogman suit that apparently aided him not a whit in speed skating. America's cross-country marvel, Bill Koch, was handed a bottle of glucose energizer on the trail, but he was near collapse at the end of his 50-km. run.
The Soviet Union's 12-year-old Yelena Vodorezova was the youngest competitor. To some she was an echo of Olga Korbut. To others the delicate Vodorezova made Korbut look like Bronko Nagurski. Although she finished 12th, she was the special darling of Innsbruck, and in time she may well become an Olympic skating champion.
Day after day there was a dual charm to the Games, as exemplified on the one hand by the impish phiz of Lord Killanin, president of the International Olympic Committee, who helped keep pomposity down, and on the other by the flare of competition, even if in vain, as in the case of Japan's four-man bobsled team, whizzing under the Olympic flag, soundly defeated but enjoying every overlong, fiery minute of it.