A Candidate For Chairman Of The Board

After losing 20 pounds, former heavyweight boardsailor Klaus Maran is almost as thin as the air that may propel him to a gold medal in one of the new Olympic sports
July 17, 1984

This very tall (6'5"), very thin (156 pounds) young man is Klaus Maran, Italy's three-time world champion heavyweight boardsailor and its bright hope for a gold medal in the newest Olympic sport. World champions aren't a dime a dozen in boardsailing, but neither are they extremely rare. Each of the three recognized classes—Windsurfer, Mistral and Windglider—has its own world championships, in two or more weight divisions for men, with a separate class for women. And there are open division world champions and World Cup champions on the professional "funboard" circuit as well. Funboards are smaller and lighter than the standard boards and have their own competitions.

What distinguishes Maran as an Olympic prospect is that his three world titles have been won in the Windglider class, the board of choice for the Los Angeles Games (see box, page 454). His other distinction is that he is taller and, inch for inch, lighter than anyone else in the field, including his archrival, the five-time Windglider world champion Stephan van den Berg of the Netherlands. Van den Berg is 6'1" and weighs 154.

All other factors being equal, height is an advantage in triangle-course boardsailing—a small advantage but an unassailable one. Height gives a boardsailor leverage. Grasping the wishbone boom and leaning back over the rushing water, he applies his body weight to counter the force of the wind against his sail. The taller he is, the farther out his center of gravity will be suspended. The longer his arms, the more nearly upright his sail will remain. And the closer to upright his sail is, the more efficiently it will perform its propelling function.

But a boardsailor's height is an advantage only if his weight is at least as low as that of his competitors'. In boardsailing and in boat sailing, heavy equals slow. Until recently, Maran and van den Berg were playing in different leagues. Van den Berg would win the lightweight titles, Maran the heavy, and rarely the twain would meet. When they did, Maran usually lost. But that was before The Diet.

A year ago Maran weighed 176 pounds and never gave a thought to what he ate. He dominated the heavyweights more often than not and was widely known as a strong-wind specialist. In light air his weight slowed his board, but let a breeze freshen to 15 knots or so and he was virtually unbeatable. Last spring, however, when Maran decided to focus on the Olympics, with its single weight class, he instantly acquired a severe handicap—about 20 pounds' worth. The effect of that handicap showed up first at an Olympic-style regatta at Kiel, West Germany in June. Maran finished 18th. Van den Berg was first.

"I was completely down after that," says Maran, who now resembles his mast. "I thought, 'I will stop triangle racing now and compete only in the funboard circuit.' " He would have, too, except that the spot he thought he had on the Mistral pro touring team had been promised to someone else. So instead, Maran decided to give Olympic-type racing one more try at the European Windglider Championships early last summer in Helsinki. "I thought, 'This is the last test.' But I knew that to do well I had to go down in weight."

With two weeks to go until the Helsinki regatta, Maran started dieting and lost almost nine pounds. The results were spectacular. "I won nearly all the races," he says. "I was very much faster and it was perfect racing."

With his course now chosen, Maran continued to diet and to drop weight from his already spare frame. His next goal was the pre-Olympics regatta in Long Beach, Calif. last August. However, his ignorance of the basics of nutrition was beginning to take its toll. "I did it all wrong," he says. "I wasn't eating all day, and sometimes in the evening I would be nervous and eat everything. I felt weak nearly the whole summer. I was tired all day, but not a good kind of tired so you want to go to bed. Just all over down."

Nevertheless, Maran, weighing in at 163, did well in Long Beach, too. He won four of the seven races and would have been first overall except for a collision with van den Berg in the sixth race. The contact led to a double protest, which the jury decided in van den Berg's favor.

In the meantime Maran continued to diet, but now he had professional advice from the Italian Sailing Federation's doctor, and he was looking into books on nutrition. "My only reading for the last few months has been books about food," he said recently. "Now I weigh 71 kilos [156½ pounds]. It's so low it's abnormal, so sometimes I don't tell people. I say I weigh 73 kilos. But now I don't have to lose any more. I can eat almost normally, usually 2,500 calories a day. But now I eat the right things. Whole wheat bread, not white, fruit, not sweets, not much meat, no hamburgers, a lot of vegetables and no fat, not just visible fat, but cooking fat, too. Sometimes you must be normal. But I think I must do it every day to maintain control."

Encased in a wetsuit with only his pale hands and long bony feet exposed, Maran looks structurally vulnerable, as if, should he cock his head even a little to one side, his entire elongated, top-heavy edifice could tilt and then topple. When he squats to wax his board he displays bones rarely seen in a human being. Part of his pelvis pokes against the seat of his tight, black, rubberized pants. Maran may look like some prehistoric bird, but his almost superhuman self-discipline has gotten him down to within a pound or two of van den Berg's weight, and he still has his 3½-inch height advantage and the enviably long arms that go with it.

By an act of will Maran has made himself a gold medal contender, but whether or not he wins in Los Angeles, he will still be the most celebrated citizen of Caldaro, Italy. The blue billboard (above) next to the highway that leads into the picturesque town from the north attests to his importance.

Caldaro is a town of 6,000 in the heart of the wine and apple-growing country of the southern Tyrol in Northern Italy. Its language is German, its architecture is a mix of Tuscan villa and Swiss farmhouse, and the regional drink is wine, not beer. Every town, river, mountain and highway in the Alto Adige has two names, one Italian, one German. Caldaro's German name is Kaltern and both words generally mean "caldron," which refers either to the hot springs that make its lake unusually warm, or to the iron pot in which polenta (cornmeal mush), a local staple, is cooked.

Caldaro's prosperity, which is considerable, is based on tourism, wine and apples, in that order. The Maran family, father Erich, mother Gretl, Klaus and two younger brothers, Ulli and Ebo, are hoteliers and restaurateurs. They live in a large, comfortable house built by Gretl's father at 9 Via Stazione near the center of town, but during the tourist season, which begins at Easter, they spend most of their time at the Pension Remichhof, a 250-year-old farmhouse that has been converted into an attractive 60-bed hotel, or at the modern Gretl am See, a large restaurant, bar and lakeside recreation complex that employs 55 people at the height of the season. Five of them work for Klaus in his boardsailing school and equipment shop. He also has an accountant and a business manager to handle his affairs when he's away, which last year was 345 days.

"Years ago I didn't know how nice it was here," he said one day as he stood in Caldaro's town square and looked around at the winding, tilted cobblestone streets, the window boxes that in summer spill over with ivy and geraniums, and the farmers who still wear the blaue Schürze, the traditional blue apron of the Tyrol. He was trying to explain how it is that a young man can love his home and still want to leave it. "It's impossible to realize how nice it is if you're always here. But now, when I am here I love it. At the end of last season, when I was really tired, I thought, 'Yes, I would like to come back here.' But after two or three weeks, I don't know, then it's good to leave this place."

Caldaro is a very nice place to come home to but a strange place for a boardsailor to call home, rather like a luger being from Sicily. By a quirk of boardsailing history, the first boards to reach Italy came to Caldaro. In the summer of 1973, one of them was purchased by Erich Maran. By trial and error, he and Klaus, who had been a dinghy sailor, taught themselves how to sail it. With no one to guide them, it took nearly the whole summer. "We made one big mistake," says Klaus. "We always went out in the afternoon, when it was very windy. It was impossible. Every afternoon we finished in the weeds on the other side of the lake and we had to swim back or wait for a tourist to give us a ride."

But Klaus was hooked. "Sailing was boring compared to windsurfing for me," he says. "I've never sailed since then."

Maran, now 24, and the sport of boardsailing have grown up together, and both have changed.

"At the beginning it was very nice. Only a few people were doing it," he says. "Sometimes when we were traveling on the highways we'd see one guy with a board on the roof and we'd stop and say, 'Hi, how are you, where are you from?' It was like a family. And the people were different, friendlier. The people at the beginning were individualists, not crazy, but a little bit different from so-called normal people. I remember in '74, '75, we were in France for the world championships. It was so fun there. It wasn't winning the race that was the aim. It was talking, learning, discussing. Now it's completely different."

Boardsailing has become a big-money sport, and where money is big, winning is, too. Winning is Maran's aim, but part of him resists what he and the sport have become. For Alberto Diaz, the coach of the Italian national team, that resistance is Maran's only competitive weakness.

"Sometimes," says Diaz, "it's possible to prepare a champion, but Klaus, I think, was born a champion. He's tall, he's very strong in body, and his heart beats only 42 times a minute. He's a very serious boy. He started boardsailing 10 years ago; therefore he has had more practice than most. In a strong wind I think he's better than van den Berg. But in race tactics, maybe van den Berg is a little better. Klaus is a good boy, in life and in racing. A respected judge, Levante Nagy of Hungary, told him at the world championships in Messina, 'I am pleased that you've won because you're the most correct competitor I've found in the field of racing.' But in racing sometimes you have to be a little, how do you say, stronger. Klaus needs a little more of what is the contrary of correct."

Two incidents caused Diaz's concern. One was the collision in Los Angeles that led to the protest that gave the regatta to van den Berg. On the first reach Maran passed van den Berg, but he failed to shout "Mast abeam" when he overtook him, as the rules require, so the jury ruled against him. Afterward, explaining the silence that cost him the win, Maran said, "I was really surprised, because van den Berg is several times world champion and he knows the rules very well, so I didn't think he was going to hit me."

The other incident took place in Bermuda in November of '83 at the Wind-glider World Championships. Again the regatta was a one-weight class event. Again there was a collision between Maran and van den Berg. Again Maran had the right of way. But this time Maran failed to protest at all.

"In the last race," he says, "the points were really close again. Through much of that race it looks like I'm the new world champion because he was 27th at the first mark. But he caught up. He's really, really good, I must say, and I made too many mistakes in the earlier races. Stupid, stupid mistakes, crazy things. When we collided in the fourth race, I just said to myself, 'O.K., you owe me one.' I wanted to show you don't have to protest every time. It wasn't a big collision; I didn't fall off the board. It wasn't like Los Angeles, where van den Berg won only because he protested me. I was the better sailor there for sure. In Bermuda he was the better sailor, so it's O.K. if he won there."

Such Coubertinesque thinking is beguiling in an Olympic contender, but it's at sad odds with modern practices, and that's what worries Diaz. "In the Bermuda situation," he says, "Klaus must protest van den Berg."

Maran now agrees he should have protested. "It was a bad mistake," he says. "But only afterward did I look back and think, 'If I had protested him I could have been the world champion.' "

"His only defect is that he's a perfectionist," says Manuela Mascia, Maran's steady girl friend for more than two years. Mascia is a native of Cagliari, Sardinia who has won four women's world championships since she began boardsailing in 1979. She and Maran met at a regatta in Cagliari in 1981 and have been the delight of the Italian sporting press ever since. They're a dream pairing of Italian regional stereotypes: He's tall and "serious," which connotes northern; she's small and "lively," which indicates southern. When both won world titles at the same Windglider championships in Messina, Sicily in 1982, there was journalistic delirium. "They are our world champion couple, but more than this, a live, dynamic symbol of the real meaning of the word 'wind-surf: love, joy, friendship, adventure, madness—" said an article in an Italian boardsailing magazine.

Early in February, Maran and Mascia paused in Caldaro for two days on their way from a training session in Sardinia to a skiing holiday in St. Moritz. A luncheon was held in their honor at the Restaurant Ritterhof, which was attended by Wilfried Battisti, the bürgermeister, or mayor, of Caldaro; Erich Sinner, its director of tourism; Erich and Gretl Maran; and Marta Ambach, Klaus's aunt, the principal of the local secondary school. As the conversation of the older people swirled around them, Klaus and Manuela ate quietly, smiled every once in a while, lifted their glasses to toast when called upon to do so and otherwise behaved like well-mannered children, seen but not heard.

"If Klaus wins at the Olympics," said Battisti, "he will put Caldaro on the map, and it will be like carnival in Rio here."

"Klaus hasn't changed at all in 10 years," said Johann Mader, the owner of the hotel. "He's the same as he always was."

"Klaus was born on a Sunday," said Aunt Marta. "He has always been lucky. When he was in school he didn't study, but he always passed."

Both Erich and Gretl Maran looked pleased, but a little embarrassed. They aren't the sort of parents who brag about their children. Gretl, a handsome woman of about 50, from whom Klaus inherited his height, his blue eyes and his thick auburn hair, is the daughter of a hotel owner. In 1979, when Klaus decided not to go to the University of Innsbruck to study economics but to devote himself full time to boardsailing, it was Gretl who was most upset. She felt strongly not only that the oldest son should go to college, but also that he should then attend a hotel school in Switzerland and after that return to Caldaro to work in the family businesses.

"There were big fights in my family in the last few years," says Klaus. "But now they see I am doing this seriously, not just for fun." Proof of Gretl's acceptance, or resignation, is the fact that when Klaus is at home, the family adheres to his rather ascetic diet.

Erich Maran was somewhat more sympathetic. He's a hard-working hotel man, but is also an active sportsman: a skier, sailor and tennis player. He has a jutting jaw, a kind face and a good sense of humor.

The question of Klaus's post-Olympic future remains delicate. "At this moment I prefer to travel and see the world," he says cautiously. "I want to train much more on small boards, funboards. I'll never be good in the wave jumping part of the competition. I'm too tall. But I've good possibilities in course racing. That's what I like. And I want to be better in slalom, too. I'll do that as long as it's interesting. I want to stay in boardsailing, not just in the business with my shop and my school, but as a coach or a consultant to a board manufacturer, something like that."

But what about returning to Caldaro? "I have to, I have to," he says, looking pained, his long, thin hands outstretched, palms up.

Erich Maran chooses his words carefully as he maneuvers his Lancia through the streets of Caldaro on a foggy winter morning. Above the town loom the mountains that have formed the backdrop for his life. "After the Olympics we hope Klaus will come to work here," he says. "He'll be 25. It's time."

TWO PHOTOS PHOTOAmong the heavies, Maran (with yellow sail) was clearly the leader of the pack, but he had to start over as a lightweight. TWO PHOTOSThe family hotel no longer is the Marans' single claim to fame in Caldaro. PHOTOVan den Berg is Maran's primary rival. PHOTOMascia and Maran are an uplifting pair of champions. PHOTOGretl hopes she can cook up a way to get Klaus to return to Caldaro for good.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)