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February 15, 2010

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EXCERPT | Feb. 16, 1976

Alpine Assault

Austria's Franz Klammer charged to Olympic glory

Reigning World Cup downhill champ Franz Klammer attacked every turn during a memorable run at Innsbruck's Patscherkofel downhill course on his way to a gold medal. William Oscar Johnson reported for SI.

Klammer burst out of the start like a wild man. He took the first third of the 3,020-meter course in desperate fashion, constantly opening his tuck as he was flung into the air like a flailing rag doll over the jumps, his skis clattering over the jarring ice. He ran the first half of the course in 1:13.24, a dangerous .19 behind leader Bernhard Russi of Switzerland. He took still more chances in the next section and slipped even further behind.

Now Klammer flashed into the last 1,000 meters. Ahead lay the Compression, a jump followed by a dip whose G-forces were squeezing the breath out of the racers. Beyond that was a savage turn called Johannesweg that had already sent two men flying into spectacular falls. Klammer nearly went out of control again, almost missing the gate above the Compression. But he miraculously righted himself, dropped into a tuck again and took a tighter line on the course than any skier before him. He picked up split seconds. At Johannesweg he sped down the steep drop, the surface hard and rough as corrugated steel, and wrenched his body into a tremendous turn that seemed as much a product of willpower as of strength. Now he flew over the last jump and streaked down the final schuss for the finish. Klammer is celebrated for his daring, but never had he run a race teetering so consistently on the edge of disaster.

Klammer won four straight World Cup downhill titles from 1975 to '78, then won a fifth in '83. He retired two years later at age 31.

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PHOTOPhotograph by HELMUT GRITSCHERLIFTOFF Klammer, known as the Astronaut, barely escaped the wrath of gravity on several occasions during his daring run. TWO PHOTOSJERRY COOKE (ZIMMERMANN, ARMSTRONG) PHOTOCARL YARBROUGH (MAIER) PHOTOLOU CAPOZZOLA (CLARK) PHOTOYAN YAN/XINHUA/SIPA (MARBURY) PHOTOJOHN ALBRIGHT/ICON SMI (POWELL) PHOTODUNCAN WILLIAMS/CAL SPORT MEDIA (KILICLI) PHOTONATHAN BILOW/AP (LAGO) PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH (RICE) PHOTOSOUL BROTHER/FILMMAGIC (DEMPSEY)

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)