Athletes and chefs are the last emissaries of French supremacy, and compensate for inadequacies in other fields. The Olympic skiers are the French astronauts; their victories against the clock make up for the absence of a manned space program. Killy, national hero and winner of the Legion of Honor, is the French John Glenn, and his contract with Chevrolet is viewed as less than treason, a temporary aberration.
—SANCHE DE GRAMONT
The French: Portrait of a People (1969)
Twenty-two years have gone by since Jean-Claude Killy won three gold medals at the Grenoble Winter Olympics and launched a post-Olympic career as stand-in astronaut, global sex symbol, boy millionaire, tabloid idol and TV huckster of everything from champagne to Chevrolets. Yet even today, if you were to speak the single word "Killy" on just about any street corner on earth, someone in earshot would know who he is. Or, more likely, who he was.
Because what this most glamorous of all downhill racers has become in the third decade of his fame is more than even the most devoted of his old fans could have predicted. Killy at 46 is no longer an athlete (and he never claimed to be a chef), but he is still a national hero and, in the eyes of his compatriots he is living, breathing proof of French supremacy. Killy is copresident of something called COJO, which is shorthand for Le Comitè d'Organisation des Jeux Olympiques, meaning the organizing committee for the 1992 Winter Olympics, which will be held in the region of the French Alps called the Savoie.
Copresident sounds ineffectual and ceremonial, like a title for a lightweight. But in this case it is not. Killy is no Dan Quayle. Nor is he simply a portable superstar who is rolled in for pep talks and sales pitches, though he does those, too, and nicely, thank you very much. Killy in his new career is, essentially, the boss of all he surveys, and his domain is only slightly less complex—and slightly less costly—than a manned space program.
February 12, 1990
The International Olympic Committee awarded the XVI Winter Olympics to a theretofore little-known French town called Albertville in the fall of 1986. Albertville will serve as the nominal capital of a vast Olympic playground, which will cover 1,000 square miles of mind-boggling mountain beauty and heart-stopping mountain roads. The Games will be scattered among a collection of 13 villages and venues in the Tarentaise Valley between Albert-ville in the lower flatland and Vald'lsère high in the mountains, just below the Italian border. The price tag for this sprawling Olympic venture is $690 million, the logistical challenges are daunting, and success is by no means guaranteed. However, if Killy and his 170 CO JO colleagues can pull it off, the average Frenchman's belief in his nation's innate superiority may once again reach the insufferable heights of the de Gaulle era.
The Killy of today bears little resemblance to the spirited daredevil who once dropped his pants in midair while executing an exhibition jump in front of hundreds of spectators in Wengen, Switzerland. One of his most trusted confidants is Jacques Chirac, former prime minister of France and the mayor of Paris. Killy is on a first-name basis with dozens of the world's mightiest corporate executives and is a sometime dinner companion of the likes of Francois Mitterrand, the president of France.
Of all the powerful and influential people Killy has dealt with as copresident of COJO, the person he is closest to and admires the most is Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, the shrewd former diplomat who is the increasingly imperious president of the IOC. Indeed, a number of Killy watchers, notably the sports-marketing genius Mark McCormack of International Management Group (IMG), believe that after Albertville the logical next step in Killy's career is the presidency of the IOC.
Watching the new Killy shining with Samaranchian polish, one can forget that inside the smooth cosmopolite lives a wild and wily mountain boy, a clever little truant who would flee school to go skiing or to hunt chamois in the farthest reaches of the Savoie, where blizzards sometimes lasted for six days and the winter wind blew so hard that it was known as la Temp‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√ë¢te Verte ("the wind that spins evergreens"). But it is the canny mountain Savoyard on the inside who made it possible for the Olympic power broker on the outside to form a working coalition out of big business, big politics and the smalltown mentality of suspicious Savoyards. "We are moving on a much higher plane of action than they are used to," says Killy. "It made the Savoie nervous, when it all began. The Savoyards were concerned that the big boys might take away their Olympics. I think they are not concerned anymore."
The Savoie is a historical and political aberration, a perpetually turbulent territory that did not become a permanent part of France until 1860. Before that it drifted between French and Italian rule for several centuries under the aegis of the House of Savoy and its various lunatic dukes. Roughly speaking, the Savoie Alps are the area between Lake Geneva to the north, the Rhone River to the west and the Arc and Isere river valleys to the south, with Italy lying to the east just across the crest of the Col de l'lseran, which looms above Val-dTsere, Killy's home village.
From the Middle Ages until 60 years or so ago, Val, as the village is called, was a pocket of poverty and low expectations, occupied mainly by shepherds and woodcutters. Early in the 20th century, life became so mean that even these tough-minded survivors began abandoning the place for menial jobs in Paris. By the early 1930s the population of Val had fallen to 112. Then, a skier named Charles Diebold, an Alsatian who had been a ski trooper during World War I, arrived, opened a ski school and—lo—Val-dTsere found new life as a ski resort.
In 1945, one Robert Killy, also a native of Alsace and a World War II Spitfire pilot for the Free French, brought his wife, Madeleine, daughter, France, 4, and son, Jean-Claude, 2, to the village and opened a small ski shop. Robert later built a 17-room inn called La Ber-gerie. The natives called the Kiilys "Chinese," their term for anyone not born in the village. To this day Killy, Val's most famous citizen and No. 1 tourist attraction, is considered Chinese because he was born in the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud.
Outsider or not, Jean-Claude held his own with the mountain-born boys—particularly when it came to skiing. Two of his fondest childhood memories are of schussing down steep, snow-covered Val-d'Isere rooftops into soft snowbanks and of speeding down a mountain pursued by a priest on skis, robes flapping, because he had cut catechism class.
Killy's life has been marked by extremes—at one moment blessed with great luck and then suddenly devastated by tragic events. The pattern emerged early. His brother, Mic, who was born in 1950, was a bright and scrappy tyke who grew up to be a good painter, a superb powder skier and Jean-Claude's closest pal. But soon after Mic's birth, Madeleine abandoned her family and went off to live with another man in the southern Alps. The loss was searing. "I have no explanation for what happened," says Killy. "We never really established a relationship after she left. It was very painful to find yourself at seven or eight, a little boy by himself."
Robert did his best to care for his three children, but they were mostly on their own after Madeleine left. Jean-Claude was sent to boarding school in Chambery, 80 miles down the valley, but he despised being shut up in a classroom. "It was a matter of physical suffering," he says. "I couldn't breathe; I suffocated inside school. I was always called by the outdoors."
Jean-Claude often cut classes. He would hitchhike back up the valley to Val-d'Isere, where he would spend all the time he could on the mountain, skiing or hunting. His father remarried in 1957, and the second wife, Renee, was a warm and loving stepmother. Even so, Jean-Claude continued to play the recalcitrant truant, and when he was 15, his father realized that school was a lost cause and let him drop out.
As a boy Killy won lots of local prizes for skiing, and at 16 he was chosen for the French national junior team. But the pattern of bad following good was always with him. At 14, he was selected for an important international junior competition in Cortina, Italy, but when he got there, he broke his leg in the downhill. At 16, he swept the national junior championships, winning the slalom, giant slalom, downhill and combined gold medals. But later the same year a borrowed car he was driving, a convertible, skidded and overturned on an icy road in Morzine, France, and his best friend, who was riding in the passenger seat, was crushed under the car. Jean-Claude, who had no driver's license, was not hurt.
Despite such jarring experiences, he never lost his intensity about skiing. Even in his early teens, he brought to the sport a hard-headed, quasi-professional attitude that set him apart from many of his easygoing peers. "I always believed that skiing was something serious, that it was a way of living a whole life," says Killy. "Others didn't. They used it only as a form of play. One of our group, Gerard was his name, was always the best, always ahead of me. But he never really believed in his skiing, never thought it could actually form your life. He went down in the valley somewhere and began driving a truck."
For a young man who saw ski racing as a serious calling, Killy took a decidedly crazy approach to the sport. "I was mad when I was young, and I took many chances," he says. "Many times I didn't come in first." Many times he didn't come in at all.
Honorè Bonnet, now 70 and a member of Kil-ly's COJO staff, coached France's fantastic ski teams of the 1960s. Sometimes as many as eight or nine French skiers would finish among the top 15 of a race, and at the 1966 world championships, in Portillo, Chile, French men and women won 16 of the 24 medals. Killy won two of the events—the downhill and the combined—but Bonnet's recollection of Killy's years preceding that triumph is of a young man in a perpetual free-fall.
"I took him on the team in 1960-61, and he never finished a race," says Bonnet. "He'd be ahead by two seconds halfway down, but he'd fall. I encouraged him. I told him that I selected people not by their finish but by their performance in the gates on the way down. I reminded him that, of course, if he wished ever to win he would have to arrange to also finish. But at the time I believed this young man had everything. Eventually I was proved right."
In December 1961, Killy won his first international race, a giant slalom. That victory was especially sweet because the event took place in Val-dTsere and because he had started 39th, a position that should have been a severe disadvantage. He was 18.
Bonnet decided to pick Killy for the GS in the 1962 world championships in Chamonix, 50 miles away in the shadow of Mont Blanc. It would be, he felt, a great French debut for this great French teenager. But Killy, who didn't yet know he had been selected, was still attempting to qualify for the downhill. In Cortina, only three weeks before the worlds were to begin, he raced a downhill in his typical hell-bent style. Two hundred yards from the finish he hit a bit of ice in a compression and went down in a windmilling heap. He rose immediately and crossed the finish line on one ski with the best clocking of the day. His other leg was broken, and he watched the world championships on crutches.
At the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, the promising young racer was entered in all three of the men's events because, he says, "Bonnet wanted to prepare me for the 1968 Games." But Killy was plagued by recurrences of amebic dysentery and hepatitis, ailments that he had contracted in 1962 during a summer of compulsory service with the French army in Algeria, and his Olympic form was off. He fell ignominiously a few yards after the start of the downhill, lost a binding in the special slalom and finished fifth in the GS, in which he had been the heavy favorite.
Two years passed before Killy put together a string of victories that was not blighted by something bad or tragic. In August 1966, he won the downhill—his first victory in that event against an international field—at the world championships in Portillo. He faltered in his best events, the slalom and the GS, because his Algerian stomach troubles returned, but the gold medals in the downhill and the combined were portents of future successes. In the 1966-67 season he was nearly invincible. Killy won 23 of 30 races, including all five World Cup downhills.
In July 1967, Killy met McCormack for the first time. The introduction was engineered by cartoonist Hank Ket-cham, the creator of Dennis the Menace, an IMG client who lived in Geneva. McCormack remembers well the first dinner he and Killy had together. "He ordered a glass of wine, and I made some crack about how he was breaking training," says McCormack. "He sipped from his glass and said, 'Would you rather I drank milk and skied like an American?' "
Even though the Grenoble Olympics were only seven months away and excitement was growing over what this fabulous Frenchman might do in a French Games, Killy was actually thinking about retiring. Says Killy, "I had had such a great season in '67 that I asked Mark, 'Shouldn't I retire now? My value is very large, and what if I lose at Grenoble?' Mark said immediately, 'Whether you lose or win in the Olympics doesn't matter. The Games are so big that you will get publicity you can't get any other way.' "
Early in the 1967-68 season, McCor-mack's advice wasn't looking very good. Killy was skiing as if he had indeed switched to milk. In the six World Cup races leading up to the Games, he won only one. He suffered from bad skis, bad boots and a bad stomach.
The downhill was the first of Killy's events in Grenoble. Wind pounded up the mountain and starts were delayed. He took what should have been a routine warmup run down the side of the course on his racing skis. He realized too late that he had skied on abrasive, sandpaperlike ice, which had ground almost all the wax off his skis. He couldn't replace it at the top of the windswept mountain, because wax has to be applied hot while the skis are at room temperature. Killy was starting No. 14. As he waited, he swaggered about, putting on an arrogant act for his rivals, but when they were out of earshot, he whispered to his friend and ski technician Michel Arpin, "It is lost."
"I knew the wax was almost all gone," says Killy now, "and I decided I might as well ski as if all hope was gone, too." He sprang out of the gate using the catapult leap start that he had invented and that only he had mastered, a start which at times gave him as much as a half-second advantage over racers who used the conventional starting style.
"My start was tremendous, and I took every risk I could find on the course," says Killy. "I also had a little secret I knew about the finish line. Early in the practice runs, I had realized that if I cut a sharp line just at the pole on the right, I could actually gain a couple of meters. I had never taken this line during practice, because I didn't want anyone to know about it."
At the first interval Killy had the best time by far, but then the micro film of wax remaining on his skis wore off, and as Bonnet recalls, "He was losing speed, losing speed with every meter he raced. He was slowing the whole last half of the course. If he had had to go another two meters, he could not have won."
But Killy used his secret shortcut and won by a scant .08 of a second over his teammate Guy Pèrillat. Next, Killy easily won the GS, and the following weekend he pulled out the gold in an infamous slalom race that was marred by dense fog and long arguments about who—if anyone—missed gates in the soup.
Thus the myth—and the millionaire—were born. He was 24.
They have named it 1'Espace Killy, the massive region of mixed skiing terrain that looms above Val-d'lsère and Tignes, its neighboring village. L'Espace Killy is where the men's alpine events, except for the special slalom, will be held at the '92 Olympics. The downhill course, designed by former Swiss racer Bernhard Russi, is a daredevil's masterpiece, a steep and tortuous brute that stood out in the early snowless weeks of winter as a wild, fresh scar against the brown rocks and soil.
Killy dipped his helicopter low over 1'Espace Killy so the joys and terrors of Russi's creation could be more clearly seen. Then he pulled the chopper up to eye level with the highest nearby peaks and set a course for the rest of his Olympic domain. It was breathtaking stuff, a mountain kingdom stretching as far as the eye could see, with the ancient crown of Mont Blanc ruling over all of it. Killy used a delicate touch of fingers and feet to pilot his craft over each of the widely spread—and widely different—villages and venues.
He spoke easily over the purr of the copter: "There is Tignes, where the freestyle skiing will be. It was Val-d'Isère's fierce rival for 200 years, but when they built the new dam you see there, they simply let the water cover up and drown the old village, and they built everything new.... There is Les Arcs, where the speed-skiing demonstrations will be. It was built from scratch only 20 years ago.... And there is Courchevel, where the ski jumps are. It is the St. Moritz of the Savoie. The IOC will stay at the Byblos Hotel, which some people think is the best in the mountains.... There is La Plagne and the bob-luge course.... And there is Moutiers, where the press center will be. It has been a busy old town since the time of the Crusades.... There is Les Saisies with the cross-country ski track cut in a clearing in the trees in the form of the five Olympic rings."
After an hour in the air, he headed back up the Tarentaise Valley. Val-d'lsère soon came into sight, a not terribly attractive collection of tacky new and cozy old architecture lying at the base of magnificent 1'Espace Killy. Killy looked down at his village and smiled.
"You know," he said, "if I had had my way after the 1968 Olympic season, I would never have left this place. I really was a shy boy of the Savoie. In our world of skiing in those days, when you retired, you didn't go out and get rich. You went home and taught skiing or opened a shop. I wanted to go home to Val-d'lsère, and I talked to the mayor about becoming a paid representative of the office of tourism. I asked for maybe $1,000 a month, but he said it was far too much money and that there was no opening for me. Then my life took care of itself."
The shy boy of the Savoie signed a contract with McCormack's firm in May 1968, and the big money began pouring in. Said Killy, "When I signed with Mark, I had told him that there were two things I didn't like: traveling and meeting strangers at cocktail parties. He said, 'No problem.' " Killy laughed. Since then, he figures, he has visited 55 countries, including the U.S. about 200 times and Japan 25 times. As for meeting strangers, only a candidate for the American presidency has pressed more unknown flesh than Killy.
He dabbled in car racing, cut many commercials, returned at age 29 for a season as a professional ski racer in the U.S. (he finished first on the circuit) and made two TV series—The Killy Style, a 13-week series in which he introduced a different ski resort each week, and The Killy Challenge, in which he raced with a handicap against former champions and celebrities. For a while Moet Chan-don paid him handsomely merely to have a bottle of its champagne on his table wherever he went.
In 1977, Killy terminated his exclusive contract with McCormack and started a ski-wear manufacturing company, Veleda S.A., in Paris. It became one of Europe's biggest, grossing $35 million in 1987, but two warm winters in a row have cut its revenues sharply. He also owns three thriving ski shops in Val-d'Isère with his father and brother.
Killy has lived for 20 years in the low-tax environs of Geneva, and some millionaire-watchers estimate that his fortune is in a class with that of Bjorn Borg, another McCormack client. Killy himself admits to $20 million. McCormack says, "Jean-Claude is frugal. He's a great learner and he has learned to handle his money well. He's very wise."
Despite his rugged good looks, Killy was wise enough to realize that he was not cut out to be a movie star. He made only one feature film, a 1972 stinker called Snow Job. TIME headlined its review UPHILL RACER and savaged Killy's performance: "Waxing romantic or working out plans for an elaborate robbery, Jean-Claude always manages to sound as if he were making a half-hearted pitch for Chap Stick."
His costar was a beautiful blonde actress, Danièle Gaubert, who could scarcely ski but who was well known to movie reviewers and Parisian gossip columnists. She had appeared in 17 films, many of them, like Camille 2000 and Les Regates de San Francisco, well received. She had been married to Rhadames Trujillo, the super-rich, evil-tempered son of the Dominican dictator. Published rumor, denied by Gaubert, had it that Trujillo kept her a virtual prisoner on his farm in rural France, forbidding her to see people or to make films. They were divorced in 1968, and not long afterward Gaubert and Killy met and became inseparable. They married secretly in the Haute Savoie village of Archamps on Nov. 2, 1973, amid unfounded rumors that they had delayed the nuptials because Killy's contract with McCormack required him to remain a bachelor until Jan. 1, 1974.
Gaubert and Killy had a daughter, Emilie, now 19, and Killy adopted Gaubert's two children from her marriage to Trujillo, Maria-Danièle, 24, and Rhadames, 23. Killy is fiercely protective of his private life, but his years with Danièle before she died of cancer in 1987 were plainly full of love and joy. "She was the love of my life, the girl of my life for 20 years," he says. "I was going to retire with my wife and live forever, well organized and with enough money, forever. That did not happen, but it is not all bad. Everything has changed without her, but not only in negative ways. Some things are positive, some things I understand better. We are not here for long. There are five, six billions on the earth, and none of us are here for long. My excitement, my commitment, now comes from the occupation of the moment. Only the moment."
It was a long time ago, in November 1981, to be exact, that Killy first heard of the great Olympic project that would occupy so many of his moments over the next decade. Word came from a Savoie politician named Michel Barnier, a Gaul list whiz kid who had been elected to the national parliament at the tender age of 27. Barnier had grown up in Grenoble and had been a 17-year-old face in the crowd at the finish line when Killy performed his Olympic heroics there. The two met in 1972, when Barnier, at age 22, was about to become the youngest man ever elected to the Savoyard parliament.
Barnier is still a member of the National Assembly as well as copresident with Killy of COJO. He was instrumental in the genesis of the Albertville bid. "I had been representing the Savoie for several years, and I was well aware that it was the worst-managed region in all of France," says Barnier. "No planning had been done for 30 years. There had been 250,000 hotel beds added to the region in that time without a thought given to the necessity for building better roads and railroads to get people into those beds. I came to the conclusion that the biggest problem in the Savoie was to catch up on this delay in new roads, and that was the number one reason for beginning our Olympic bid."
Conceived in a bed of cold political pragmatism, the bid needed to be swaddled in some credible idealism to give it warmth. Barnier appealed to Killy, and together the two of them sold the concept to the fractious Savoyards as a crusade that would both galvanize and unite them. "We realized the Olympics were not an ordinary, banal undertaking," says Barnier. "Jean-Claude and I saw them as something magic that could bring fame to the Savoie."
Barnier committed part of his staff, funds and office to the Olympic campaign. Together he and Killy raised $100,000, and in December 1981 held their first press conference to announce that Albertville, a town with no ski area and no special winter tourist attractions, would bid for the '92 Games. Why Albertville? It was a crafty Savoyard solution. The IOC insists that each Olympics be hosted by an individual city instead of by a region or nation. Barnier, the politician, and Killy, the Samaranchian diplomat, chose drab, workaday Albertville as the front city because it is not a winter resort and thus wouldn't be perceived as competition by the other villages and resorts in the valley.
Killy, Barnier and a handful of early supporters next turned into global traveling salesmen for Albertville. "We decided that one of our group would visit every member of the IOC in his home at least once and at some international meeting at least once," says Killy. "There were 91 IOC members in 46 countries. I saw 50 people at home in 35 countries myself. We were so inexperienced and shy at first, we thought lobbying' meant hanging around hotel lobbies and leaping out from behind the potted palms to talk to people. We knew nobody, then we got to know them by their first names, then we got to know their whole families by their first names."
One of the early Albertville traveling emissaries was Fran‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√ºois Lèpine, now a chief administrator for Valence in the Rhone Valley. "The thing that made it easier for us was that, no matter where we went, they knew Killy," says Lèpine. "In Togo, in Thailand, in Kuwait, in Bulgaria, they always knew Killy."
The Albertville boys improved their sales talk, printed sophisticated brochures and made a couple of lovely films to sell the Savoie. However, in June 1984, they were dealt what seemed a terrible blow: Paris announced it was launching a bid for the 1992 Summer Olympics. If it succeeded, Albertville's bid would be dead, because since 1936 the IOC has declined to hold the Winter Games and the Summer Games in the same country. From the start, the Paris campaign was polished and powerful, led by none other than Chirac, who was then the prime minister of France.
"We thought that was the end of us," says Killy. "We had been working very hard for three years already, and here was Paris, doing everything in the best way and, of course, the biggest way. We decided our best strategy was to jump in the backseat, follow them everywhere and wait."
The IOC was to choose the two host cities at its Lausanne headquarters on Oct. 17, 1986. The competition was fierce, with 13 cities chasing the two Olympics—Amsterdam; Belgrade; Birmingham, England; Brisbane; Barcelona; and Paris were bidding for the Summer Games, while Anchorage; Berchtesgaden. West Germany; Cortina, Italy; Falun, Sweden; Lillehammer, Norway; Sofia and Albertville wanted the Winter Games. As the date of decision drew nearer, one thing became unmistakably clear: Samaranch, born and bred in Barcelona, would do everything in his power to ensure that Barcelona got the 1992 Summer Games.
Two months before the Lausanne meeting, Killy went to the prime minister's office at the Hotel de Matignon in Paris and spoke man-to-man to Chirac. "I told him there was no chance for Paris, but I said I understood that the bid could not be canceled at that late date," says Killy. "All I did was ask him if he would make a speech for Albertville, as well as for Paris, before the IOC in Lausanne. He was the prime minister of all of the country, not just Paris. He agreed, and we agreed not to tell anyone else."
Chirac's surprise endorsement of Albertville's bid was, in Killy's estimation, the most important tactic in the campaign to win the Games. "He was, after all, the head of the Paris bid," says Killy, "and for him to speak for a rival was very moving." Albertville won, with 51 votes to Sofia's 25, on the sixth ballot. The triumph was profound. But....
The day the IOC picked Albertville, Danièle was recuperating from an operation in a hospital in Marseilles. Jean-Claude had known for five months that she had incurable cancer. "Only Jean-Claude and I knew about it at that point," recalls Mic. "She did not know. It was so difficult for him. I don't think he wanted to be president of CO JO then. I think he wanted only to spend time with her until she died."
Nevertheless, Killy decided to serve as copresident with Barnier, and at a COJO meeting on Jan. 16, 1987, the announcement was made. Thirteen days later Killy resigned in a rage. Many had expected the COJO meeting to be mainly champagne and celebration. Instead, Killy used the occasion to announce a tough cost-cutting plan that called for consolidating certain venues and eliminating others. The most controversial idea was to move one men's Alpine event from Tignes to Val-d'Isère and one women's Alpine event from Les Menuires to Mèribel, leaving both Tignes and Les Menuires with nothing.
In the days immediately following his announcement, Killy visited the mayors of the 10 villages that will host events to explain his plan, but the uproar was thunderous. He was accused of favoring his hometown and of being dictatorial. Roger Cumin, the mayor of the commune in which Les Menuires is located, called the decision "a catastrophe...a tragedy" and said, "Killy has adopted the methods of American businessmen who have no consideration for the human impact of their decision."
Lèo Lacroix, Killy's former teammate and a medal winner in the '64 Olympics, who was representing Les Menuires, blasted his old friend: "Jean-Claude Killy and his committee lack fair play." Marielle Goitschel, a fellow gold medalist in Grenoble, former good friend and also a Les Menuires booster, said, "I find the way in which he proceeded inelegant: Killy arrived with his team at this assembly of officials and puts before them this fait accompli...without the slightest consternation. It is inadmissible!"
Anti-Killy fever infected the Tarentaise, and on Jan. 26, 3,000 people protested his decision in the streets of Chambèry. Killy was stunned—and furious, and on Jan. 29 he resigned. He told the newspaper France-Soir, "I thought that the Savoie would be a single and indivisible front to face the Olympic challenge. I see now the Savoie is composed of pieces. That was my error in judgment."
Says Killy now, "If I had told the mayors at the moment we got the Games, 'You have no say over locations of events; we will move them where we think they will do the most good for the Savoie and for France,' they would have cheered and given me carte blanche. But things changed. Everyone had his own plan for the Games, and when I realized that, I was so disappointed and angry that my reaction was violent."
Barnier took control and patched together a compromise that gave Tignes free-style skiing and Les Menuires the men's slalom. "I never doubted that Jean-Claude would come back," says Barnier.
Residents of the Savoie were not so sure. Soon after he quit COJO, Killy began receiving apologies. Hundreds of people wrote letters urging him to return, a national poll indicated the French admired him more than ever. Lacroix and Goitschel both said they had spoken in anger and that they did not believe the Olympics could succeed without their old friend. Killy, however, was on a deathwatch, committed to his wife until the end. It finally came on Nov. 3, 1987, one day after their 14th wedding anniversary.
Exhausted and depressed, Killy was in no shape at first to consider his future. But gradually, gently, subtly, the two men he most admired persuaded him to return to COJO. Says Killy, "Chirac was still prime minister, and he said, 'You must be there, Jean-Claude,' and I said, 'Maybe.' " And Samaranch? "Well, he said, 'I need you, Jean-Claude; you must come back. We gave the Games mostly to you.' My relationship with Samaranch is such that I had to go back if he needed me." In addition, President Mitterrand sent Jean Glavany, then the director of Mitterrand's cabinet, to Geneva to ask Killy to return. Now Glavany is chief mediator between COJO and the French government.
So on March 11, 1988, two weeks after the Calgary Olympics, Killy returned to his position as the unpaid co-president of COJO. "Barnier wanted me to come back as advisor," Killy says. "Then he wanted me to come back as vice-president. I laughed, and he knew what he had to do."
Things had progressed well enough during the 14 months he was absent. The provincial infighting that many observers had predicted would flare up was nowhere to be seen, and even the major money problems seemed to be under control. Nevertheless, Killy's return as copresident lit a spark. In May 1988, CBS won the U.S. television rights to the Games with a staggering bid of $243 million—$68 million more than NBC, the next-highest bidder, offered. Killy, acting on behalf of COJO, signed a contract with IMG, and soon an innovative, high-voltage and very un-French marketing program went into operation. At first it drew heavy fire from traditionalists, but when big money began rolling in, the opposition died away. COJO currently has an impressive $100 million in its treasury, and a cozy group of 12 sponsors, elite French companies known as Club Coubertin, who have semiexclusive use in France of the Olympic logo. (A dozen or so official equipment suppliers are also allowed use of the logo.)
It was suggested to Killy recently that with things going so well, perhaps it would be fitting if he posed for a photograph waving an Olympic flag from a mountaintop above Val-d'Isère. He shook his head and said, "No, I cannot appear triumphant. It is not the time for that."
Whereupon he took a seat on a rock with all of 1'Espace Killy spread below and rested his chin on his hand, in the manner of Rodin's The Thinker. "This," he said, "is more appropriate."
THE ALBERTVILLE GAMES WILL, IN FACT, BE SCATTERED AMONG 13 VENUES IN THE SAVOIE REGION OF SOUTHEAST FRANCE. KILLY (RIGHT) NEEDS A HELICOPTER IN ORDER TO SURVEY HIS SPRAWLING ALPINE KINGDOM