Best Moments of Alpine Skiing in the Winter Games (VIII). Innsbruck 1976
The Games had been awarded to the city of Denver but the city withdrew on 15 November 1972 following a referendum that rejected the building of Olympic facilities for ecological reasons. Innsbruck offered to step in. It was accepted by the IOC as the host city of these Games on 4 February 1973. The Austrian city had previously hosted the Winter Games 12 years earlier.
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. On February 5, 1976, in Innsbruck, Klammer wrote one of the greatest pages of Olimpic history.
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: 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).
The second is the Olympic Downhill race on February 5, 1976, 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 were 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 at 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 career was only 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.
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 and 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.