Austrian ski great Franz Klammer has lost neither his yen for
speed nor his sense of style. Three times since he retired from
elite competition in 1985, Klammer has won a Jeep for finishing
first in a legends ski event, and each time he has given the
vehicle away. "I race for the glory of being fast, not for a
prize," Klammer says. "Well, unless the prize is a Mercedes."
In addition to maintaining his edge on the ski slopes, Klammer,
49, is an avid mountain biker and lives in Vienna with Eva, his
wife of 23 years, and their daughters Sophie, 14, and Stephanie,
9. He competes in a handful of legends events each year and makes
paid appearances at a dozen corporate outings annually, mostly in
Europe and in the U.S. He also works as a ski commentator for
Austrian and British TV networks and often bemoans the tempering
of his specialty event. "Downhill racers today don't go through
what we did," he says. "We had no netting, and we skied on ice
and bumps. Now every course is perfectly groomed with extra turns
to take away speed. It's too dull for spectators."
Klammer's gold-medal-winning downhill run at the 1976 Innsbruck
Olympics was anything but dull. Several times he sailed through
the air with arms flailing and skis askew, but he always righted
himself en route to winning the race by .33 of a second in front
of 60,000 screaming countrymen. Though his 25 career downhill
victories are still the most in World Cup history, Klammer says
he is most vividly recognized for the race in which he won his
only Olympic medal. "A customs agent in the U.S. told me once, 'I
remember you. You're the man who almost killed himself that
day,'" he says.
Klammer's first purchase after the Innsbruck Games was a milking
machine for his father, a cattle breeder in Mosswald, Austria. In
1977 Klammer launched a line of ski apparel, but the venture was
short-lived. Eight years later, after closing his Olympic career
with a 10th-place finish at the 1984 Sarajevo Games, he began a
six-year run as a race car driver and won a European championship
in the touring class.
April 20, 2003
He also manages the Franz Klammer Foundation, which offers
financial assistance, counseling and medical referral to young
athletes from all sports who have suffered disabling injuries.
Klammer started the foundation shortly after a 1977 training-run
spill left his younger brother Klaus, at the time a 19-year-old
Austrian junior ski champion, paralyzed from the waist down.
"Klaus had no insurance, but doctors cared for him because his
name was Klammer," says Franz, whose brother now works as a tax
lawyer in Lienz. "Others are not so lucky. I want to help."
In other words, Klammer is still setting high standards.
Klammer has won the most World Cup downhill races, but he is best
known for his wild run at the Innsbruck Olympics.