First you go to Friesach, a tiny village perched way up on an Austrian slope near the Yugoslav border. Then, carefully please, you go way, way up from there, up a snaking narrow road, up past the rock slides, ice patches and several rivulets spilling across your course until you see more than one barn. That is Mooswald.
Next you must wind around the peaks of Upper Bavaria in search of Reit im Winkl, a hamlet that is just a hairpin turn or two inside West Germany's southern frontier. Then you go four miles thataway until you find the man with a two-way radio who checks topside to see if the one-lane route up the precipice is free. If so, you then spiral ever heavenward between glacial drifts—caution: goats have the right of way—until you level off ever so imperceptibly. Welcome to the suburb of Winklmoosalm.
Why exactly would anyone risk these ascents? Well, hundreds have been making the pilgrimage the past few weeks. At Mooswald, the faithful point to a 200-year-old farmhouse with a new cafe tacked on called Gasthaus Klammer. That, they whisper, is where Franzi lives. Over at Winklmoosalm the acolytes stand vigil around a modern chalet overlooking a sweep of snow-veined summits. Peeking in the windows, the assembled explain that not only is this the Mittermaier place but also maybe Rosi herself is resting inside.
And was the long, zigzagging pull worth it? Ach, everyone says, those are not really bad roads at all, those are actually the great white ways that the Wunderkinder skied down to go to school, the boulevards that led to an El Dorado of Olympic gold.
March 15, 1976
Though the flames of the 12th Winter Olympiad have been extinguished, the afterglow of two of its brightest stars, Austria's Klammer and West Germany's Mittermaier, still burns, indeed rages on. Back in the crush of things after two weeks of post-Olympic seclusion, both expressed a longing to escape to the U.S. and the relative calm of the World Cup races. Hounded by hordes of admiring snow bunnies at the Austrian championships, Klammer sighed, "Ah, peace. When I go to America in a few days I will have peace because I am not so well known over there."
Mittermaier, under heavy police protection before attending a send-off costume ball in Munich, was so besieged that she showed up as a veiled harem girl so she could move about incognito. "The jubilation is nice, wonderful, but what's happening now is unimaginable," she said. "Oh, my, I hope the pressure will die down now that I am off to the U.S."
Die down, perhaps, but not too much. Framed by TV screens the world over, celebrated in endless replays and reams of print, Franzi and Rosi are the new darlings of a vast and demanding public, millions of whom wouldn't know a schuss from a schnitzel.
Klammer and Mittermaier are snowbound opposites. He is the dashing young prince of the peaks, a 22-year-old downhiller who races with a reckless élan that can only be described as scary. She is a plugaway veteran of 25, the sweet "Granny" who has been riding the World Cup circuit since its 1967 inception. He looks like a youthful Paul Newman, exudes the confidence of the hustler and moves through life as if somebody up there likes him. She is the dimpled Bavarian who seems more at home in her dirndl singing folk songs to the accompaniment of a zither.
Klammer was the favorite at Innsbruck, the winner of an extraordinary 12 of 17 downhills during the past two World Cup seasons, four out of eight this winter. Mittermaier was at best a contender. Though ranked in the top 10 in all three Alpine events, she often seemed to be a Renaissance skier lost in an age of specialists. The rest is instant-replay history: Franz prevailed with a thrilling breakneck downhill burst, and Rosi stunned all by winning gold medals in the slalom and downhill—her first major victory ever in the latter event—and adding a silver in the giant slalom.
For all their disparate ways, what unites Franz and Rosi, finally, is not only their triumphs but a common natural resource. They are still basically children of the mountains with all the untainted open qualities that implies. When asked what madcap continental adventures he was going to indulge in after the Games, Klammer allowed, "My father already has the pitchfork waiting for me. We have to spread the dung for the spring planting."
If Franz is aware that dashing young princes are not supposed to get their hands dirty, he is not letting on. On his passport he lists his occupation as "farm worker." As for Rosi, she is a full-time smiler. In Innsbruck, jostled, dragged and once even carried off like a loaf of bread by a TV crewman, her enduring grin was one of the more refreshing aspects of the Games. That and the fact that no matter what she said it always sounded like German for gee-whillikers.
Something close to G√∂tterd√§mmerung is what the Austrians said about their team's overall poor performance in Innsbruck. In a nation that equates Olympic gold with tourist lucre, Klammer is being celebrated on all fronts. It began at the Olympic Village with a champagne toast from Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, who decreed, "You have saved the Games for us."
Klammer's triumphal return home was just as emphatic. In Friesach (pop. 1,400), 8,000 people massed in a snowy pasture to pay homage. And when Franzi appeared, riding in a blue convertible, resplendent in a white suit and garlanded with pink carnations, the church bells rang, an oompahpah band cut loose and the local choir sang an original hosanna, Isn't He a Wonderful Boy. The B√ºrgermeister had two important announcements: one, Franz could have any plot of land he wanted in all of greater Friesach, and, two, there would be free beer for everyone.
Then Franz led his caravan up, way up to Mooswald and the warmer confines of Gasthaus Klammer. Within minutes the icy ascent was strewn with so many disabled cars that it resembled a vertical parking lot. The 400 revelers who got through before the heights were hopelessly cut off feasted on venison, trout and sausages dished up by Franz' older brother Michael, the butcher. Mama Klammer cut a Black Forest cake the size of a truck tire, the band blasted, the choir yodeled and the schnapps and beer flowed until dawn.
The hundreds who were stranded on the Mooswald road have the consolation of knowing they can see Franz anytime, or at least as soon as he gets back from America. He is on permanent display at the Gasthaus, a spacious neo-Alpine addition that was completed five months ago. Outside on the terrace is a large iron sculpture of Franz in a racing stance. Inside are all Franz' trophies, handsomely encased and lighted, plus Franz' ski displays and photographs of Franz stripped to the waist and wielding a hammer and chisel, Franz jumping his fire-engine red motorcycle up the mountain, Franz driving a sulky. And with luck, museum-goers will soon be able to see Franz in the flesh down in the rathskeller; he plans to open a discotheque there.
When he is home, Klammer likes to contemplate another trophy. It is a gravel road that begins out back where his father keeps 20 pigs, 17 cows and four horses and it winds 4½ miles up the mountain through the family's 89 acres to a communal pasture. Franz built that road with his father in his 17th summer. He helped cut down the trees, clear the rocks and level the land. This spring, on the land that was given to him by the burghers of Friesach, he plans to build a three-bedroom house 400 feet up his road so he can get away from it all. He plans to build the house himself.
"Hard work, that's the kind of conditioning I like," Klammer said during a break in the post-Olympic Austrian championships at Radstadt. He was sitting near a window that was alive with faces peering in at him, and as he spoke he signed one autograph after another, barely looking as he made a large swirl that resembled a kid's drawing of a tornad0o. "You get a special strength from work that you can't get from conditioning programs," he said. "People always ask me how I won this race or why I won that one. There's a very simple reason: I'm faster. In the last third of a race when others tire out I can still push ahead. And that comes from hard work. You want to win the Olympics? Go build a road in the mountains."
The year Klammer turned trailblazer he grew four inches taller, finished second in the Austrian downhill and was named to the national team. "I didn't know anything about him or his conditioning," says Austrian Coach Toni Sailer, "so I got on the chair lift with him and as we went up the hill I asked him if he did any gymnastics and he said no. I said, soccer? He said no. Water skiing? No. Tennis? No. And finally he said, 'You know, I live on the side of a mountain. All I do is ski and work.' And there's something to that. With no bars, no girls, no parties, the mountain boys keep their natural strength. In Franz' case it has given him a sound hardness."
Beyond that, what any layman senses about Klammer, Sailer confirms. Eyes widening in disbelief, he says, "Franz has no fear, none whatsoever. And that's not something you learn. If you don't like speed, you can't get used to it." Not that Klammer is wholly suicidal. "It's a nice feeling," he says of the whistling 80 to 85 mph speeds he hits. "But you also remember what a car looks like when it hits a wall going that speed." It is simply a matter of mind over mountain, Klammer claims. "When you lose balance, and think, 'Now I'm going to fall,' then you will most certainly fall. But if you keep thinking that you will continue, then you will."
Klammer only wishes he could come up with another handy formula to ease the celebrity squeeze. Visibly weary and suffering from flu at the Austrian nationals, he pulled out of the downhill because "I can't bring any power and conviction to it." Then, between bombing out in both the slalom and giant slalom, he bulleted off in his tangerine BMW to a nightspot down the road to commiserate with the bartender. Her name is Annemarie Moser-Proell, retired downhill racing queen of the mountain and chief attraction at Café Proell. She says, "Believe me, I don't miss any of the hectic stuff, the nervousness that Franz is going through. I really feel for him."
Klammer yearns for this season to end. Not so he can chuck his skis into the closet like most of his World Cup rivals do. No, he likes to pack his boots into his rucksack, climb far above the crowd and go spring skiing on some remote patches of snow. "You see," he says, "I love skiing. It's the only thing for me."
Ditto for Rosi Mittermaier. She could hardly have chosen otherwise, of course. Not only does she live up there amid all those Dairy Queen mountains, not only are there nine ski lifts practically in her backyard, not only did her older sister Heidi compete in the 1960 Squaw Valley and 1964 Innsbruck Olympics, but also her father has been running a ski school for more than 30 years. So Rosi skied. Oh, how she skied.
Between calamities, as it were. Her twin sister died at birth. Raised on goat's milk like the fictional Heidi, Rosi nearly suffocated six months later when a goat jumped into her carriage. At age two she donned her first skis and also ate some rat poison that nearly killed her. And on and on. Last year she hit a slalom pole in a race and caught a splinter in her right eye. Then late last season, a tourist side-swiped her in Austria and broke her arm on the same slope where she was to win the Olympic downhill. Though she was second to Moser-Proell in the World Cup at the time, Rosi figures that overall she is on the plus side. "I have been born under a lucky star," she says.
Reit im Winkl is convinced that she was. If Klammer's homecoming was quaint, Mittermaier's was positively Wagnerian. When her procession swung off the Autobahn from Munich, many of the 25,000 celebrants lining the 13-mile route to her native village had to be restrained by police from mobbing her black Mercedes limousine. Then, just outside Reit im Winkl (pop. 2,400), where another throng of 25,000 was overflowing the village square, Rosi transferred to a rose-bedecked horse-drawn carriage.
As evening set, someone touched off the town cannon, and the triumphal march was on. First came a 40-piece brass band dressed in lederhosen, sending Thor-like crashes reverberating through the valley. Then ranks of comely fr√§uleins dressed in peasant costumes, followed by a mass of schoolchildren carrying torches. A male chorus sang The Village Has Gone Crazy with Joy. The crowd chanted "Golden Rosi, golden Rosi, do it again." Church bells clanged. Sirens wailed. And off on a darkening mountainside there was a sudden brilliant flickering as "Rosi" was spelled out in flaming script.
"My God," exclaimed Rosi at the ball that night, "what would have happened if I'd won all three gold medals?"