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Locals Haven't Been Yokels

Feb. 06, 1984
Feb. 06, 1984

Table of Contents
Feb. 6, 1984

Record Jump
DePaul
Slam Dunk
Winter Olympics
TV/Radio
Scott Hamilton
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Locals Haven't Been Yokels

By William Oscar Johnson

Bojan Krizžaj certainly isn't the first home-country athlete to be subjected to such Olympic pressure. It happens every four years. What's extraordinary is the way beleaguered local competitors have reacted: Time after time they've come through. In fact, in all but one or two of the past 11 Winter Olympics there has been at least one memorable victory by at least one local hero or heroine.

This is an article from the Feb. 6, 1984 issue Original Layout

First the exceptions. In 1956, when the Games were held in Cortina, Italy, there were no stunning performances by a native, although the Italian two-man bobsled took a gold. In 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, Hitler's Winter Games, Germans triumphed in both the men's and women's Alpine events and in pairs figure skating, but all were favorites. For the record, in 1924 in Chamonix, France, and in 1928, in St. Moritz, Switzerland, no gold medals were won by home-country athletes.

Now for the heroes. Lake Placid, 1932: Young Jack Shea, a 21-year-old Dartmouth junior, had driven seven hours on icy roads after taking final exams to take part in the 500-meter speed-skating event. He was the U.S. champion, but the former world champ, Bernt Evenson, a Norwegian, was the heavy favorite, though the pack start used at Lake Placid was new to him. To his own astonishment, Shea won, tying the Olympic record, and then got still another gold medal in the 1,500. His teammate Irving Jaffee won the 5,000 and 10,000 to give the U.S. a sweep in men's speed skating, a feat not duplicated for 48 years.

St. Moritz, 1948: Heidi Schlunegger, a 25-year-old unknown, electrified her Swiss compatriots by winning the first Olympic women's downhill. "I can't say if I would have performed equally well if the Winter Games had been elsewhere," she says now, "because I never competed outside Switzerland." Shortly after the Olympics, Schlunegger broke her leg while training and never raced again.

Oslo, 1952: The Gorgeous Norwegian, Stein Eriksen, 24, won a gold in the giant slalom and a silver in the slalom. In the GS, Eriksen fell—was actually on his side sliding for an instant—then bounced up off his elbow and switched on some mysterious Norse horsepower, which propelled him down the rest of the course so fast that he won the race by 1.9 seconds.

Squaw Valley, 1960: The coach of the U.S. hockey team, Jack Riley, now 63, recalls the bleak situation before the Games began. "We were picked to finish last," he says. "The Soviets had beaten us 15-0 the year before. No one in his right mind would have bet on us." But the Americans edged powerful Canada 2-1, then knocked over the not-so-invincible Soviets 3-2, and took on the Czechs. Down 4-3 at the end of two periods, the U.S. exploded for six goals to win 9-4.

Innsbruck, 1964: Austria's Egon Zimmermann won the men's downhill, as expected, but the Austrian women were truly remarkable: Christl Haas, then 20, had won every downhill in 1963 and was the unmistakable, if uncomfortable, favorite. "The position of favorite son or daughter is not an advantage," she says. "In Innsbruck, the media and the public came right into the Olympic Village. There was no escape." Despite the pressure, Haas won her gold going away. She was followed immediately by two other Austrian women—Edith Zimmermann, who got the silver, and Traudl Hecher, who took the bronze. This is the only one-nation sweep of a women's Olympic Alpine race.

Grenoble, France, 1968: This was the Olympics of Jean-Claude Killy, who recalls, "The whole nation was breathing down my neck. That included DeGaulle himself. He cabled me a message to the effect that he was expecting me to win for France. I got his cable just before the downhill, when my nerves were really on edge." Killy not only won the downhill but also the GS and the slalom.

Sapporo, Japan, 1972: Yukio Kasaya, born near Sapporo, had been a leading jumper on the world circuit in the months before the Games. He figured to do very well at Sapporo and he did exactly that—winning the gold medal in the 70-meter jump. Impressive, but what resulted verged on the miraculous. Two other jumpers, also natives of the Sapporo region, flew farther than they ever had before. Akitsugu Konno won the silver and Seiji Aochi the bronze for the first one-nation sweep of an Olympic ski-jumping event since the Norwegians in 1948.

Innsbruck, 1976: Anyone who hasn't seen at least one rerun of ABC Sports' marvelous coverage of Franz Klammer's supernatural downhill triumph in the last eight years should probably get the Rip van Winkle Slumber Cup. Had Klammer started earlier in the field, the whole thing might have been just another very sweet piece of pressurized success. But he was 15th, the last man in the first seed. Klammer says, "You simply cannot let the tension penetrate. There is no recipe for shutting yourself off from it, but you must find a way." Of course he did. In that slashing, reckless run he edged Bernhard Russi of Switzerland by .33.

Lake Placid, 1980: It's probably true, as some have said, that Eric Heiden might well have won five gold medals even if these Games were held on the moon. But as for the American hockey team, almost no one would say that they could have produced their particular miracle anywhere except in Lake Placid. "We wouldn't have won in another country," says Mike Eruzione, the team captain. "When we stepped on the ice against the Russians and heard the chant—U!S!A! U!S!A!—well, we were already 10 feet in the air and that just lifted us 20 feet higher."

PHOTOSki jumpers Aochi, Kasaya and Konno were flashes in Japan.