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Best Moments of Alpine Skiing in the Winter Games. Innsbruck 1976

The XII Olympic Winter Games were celebrated in Innsbruck, Austria, from February 4 to 15, 1976, and attracted 1,123 participants (892 men and 231 women) representing 37 different countries (NOCs). The program consisted of six sports (37 separate events).

On 4 February, the President of Austria, Rudolf Kirschschläger, declared the 12th Olympic Winter Games open. The Olympic Oath was sworn by Werner Delle-Karth (bobsleigh). Christl Haas. The Official’s Oath was sworn by Willy Köstinger, who was to officiate in the Nordic combined event. Two cauldrons were lit as a symbol of the Winter Games being held twice in Innsbruck. The cauldron of 1964 was lit by Christl Haas (Alpine skiing) and the 1976 cauldron was ignited by Josef Feistmantl (luge).

Like in 1964, The Alpine Skiing events in the Winter Games Innsbruck 1976 were held in Axamer Lizum, except for the Men's Downhill race which took place in Patscherkofel.

Innsbruck 1976. Axamer Lizum
Innsbruck 1976. Axamer Lizum

During the 70th IOC Session in Amsterdam in 1970, the 12th Olympic Winter Games were initially awarded to Denver, which had beaten competition from Sion, Tampere, and Vancouver. However, on November 15, 1972, the city was forced to withdraw following a referendum that rejected the building of Olympic facilities for ecological reasons. Innsbruck offered to step in. The IOC accepted the capital of the Alps as the host city of these Games on 4 February 1973. The Austrian city had previously hosted the Winter Games 12 years earlier. Mayor Dr. Lugger became the only mayor in the world ever to have organized the Olympic Games twice in his town.

One of the major reasons behind the IOC’s decision was that Innsbruck had very successfully hosted the 1964 Games, and most of the necessary infrastructure was therefore already in place. Work got underway to modernize some of the city’s existing facilities, and new runs for the bobsleigh and luge events were built, as well as an ice rink. The Organising Committee wanted the Games to be open and accessible to as many people as possible, but also made security one of its key priorities, with the memories of the horrific events of Munich four years earlier still fresh in everyone’s minds.

The most memorable image of the Games was local hero Franz Klammer flying wildly down the Downhill course, barely in control, on his way to a gold medal. In Innsbruck 1976 he starred one of the Best Moments of Alpine Skiing in the Winter Games.

Klammer, popularly known as "The Kaiser" and the “Klammer Express”, is still internationally recognized as the best Downhill skier of all time and the epitome of ski racing.

There are two reasons to remain the king of the Downhill: the first one is that Franz Klammer holds the victory record for World Cup Downhill races. He won 25 World Cup Downhills, including four on the Hahnenkamm at Kitzbühel, including a string of three consecutive victories (1975, 1976, 1977), and four in Wengen. He won a total of 5 World Cup Downhill crystal globes (1975-78, and 1983).

Innsbruck 1976. Franz Klammer

The second is the Olympic Downhill race on February 5, at Patscherkofel.

A huge crowd of more than 60,000 supporters had gathered along the edge of the piste and at the finish line for the star event at the Innsbruck Games. Millions of Austrians sat in front of their TV sets across the country.

The man to beat was Swiss Bernhard Russi, title-holder after his victory at the Sapporo Games in 1972. Setting off with bib 3, he performed a solid run and crossed the finish line with a time of 1:46.06, giving him the lead.

With bib number 15, a yellow suit, red boots, and a red helmet with a white stripe, Klammer was behind Russi the first time split, and still behind at the second.

Franz Klammer recalls, “By the time I walked into the starting gate, I knew I am going to win. I was so convinced that I can do it. But I knew I had to risk everything. I was so focused, I was so concentrated, just on the run, and then halfway down, I was looking at the crowd, kind of now I'd better do something to win the race. So I changed the line completely. But I felt, you know, they were really pushing me”.

Passing the finish line, the time showed 1:45.73. Russi was beaten by 33 hundredths of a second. “Really the whole mountain was shaking when Franz came down”, he recalls. “And I personally think there is somewhere that power from spectators they can pull him down. I think that gave him the extra kick, there was something in the air, he could not lose that race, no way. Finally, he also skied a line in the final pitch which I’m sure he never recognized. Nobody went there to see if it was possible or not. He just went down the straight line which normally everybody said it’s just impossible, you can’t stand this. He just did it!”.

With the Super-G, as a second speed race, not existing at the time, Klammer's ski career was only in Downhill (apart from a world title in the combined event in 1974), which explains why despite his overwhelming domination, the Austrian skier, born on 3 December 1953 in Mooswald (Carinthia), was never able to compete for the large general classification globe in the World Cup in an era particularly characterized by the success of the Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

Rosi Mittermaier of West Germany won two of the three Alpine skiing events and almost became the first woman to win all three. But in the final race, Canada’s Kathy Kreiner beat her by 12 hundredths of a second.

Although Mittermaier was a Downhill veteran who had competed on the World Cup circuit for ten years, she had never won a Downhill race.

Rosi Mittermaier. Innsbruck 1976

Her luck changed dramatically in Innsbruck in 1976. Mittermaier won the Downhill by half a second to claim her first gold medal. Three days later she won the Slalom event by a third of a second.

The Giant Slalom was contested two days later but unfortunately, on the final run, Mittermaier made a mistake at one of the lower gates which cost her valuable time. Even so, she still managed to come second and won her third medal in the Games.


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