Monday, January 26, 1998
Kitzbuehel legend lives on
After years of struggling in the combined event (a combination of downhill and slalom results calculated together) on the World Cup stage, I finally managed to mount the podium. It was Canada's second podium of the season yesterday and it came in the cradle of alpine ski racing.
It has been a long struggle to get this kind of result - I've been racing the combined for the past six seasons. My previous best results have been two fifth-place finishes, one in Chamonix, France, the other in Wengen, Switzerland.
The combined is an interesting event and has a history as long as the famed Kitzbuehel downhill. Organizers have run a joint slalom and downhill over the Kitzbuehel weekend since 1940.
Historically, all skiers would race both events, and the combined trophy would go to the skier with the lowest combined time from both.
Yesterday's combined was won by Kjetil Andre Aamodt from Norway, a previous World Cup overall winner. Second place went to local favorite Werner Franz.
Kitzbuehel was the site for the seventh World Cup of the season and is the Super Bowl of ski racing.
Ask a ski racer whether he would choose to win Kitzbuehel or the Olympics and most racers would say Kitzbuehel. To a skier, Kitzbuehel is the be-all and end-all of racing.
The race in Kitzbuehel attracts record crowds every year, and it is the most attended and most exciting race to compete in.
Thanks to three skiers, namely Ken Read, Steve Podborski and Todd Brooker, a large chunk of Canadian ski-racing history was carved out in the early 1980s.
The trio won the Hahnenkamm race three years in a row and set the precedent for future generations of Crazy Canucks to follow.
We have no Canadian rookies racing the course this year, which is too bad.
A rookie's initiation takes place on the Kitzbuehel course. Once a rookie has skied the course, he becomes a full-fledged member and all other races after that point become easier.
I remember my first trip to Kitzbuehel very well. All week, the team veterans were telling horror stories about sections of the course.
"Do you remember the year when everyone was crashing in the Mausfalle (a jump on the top part of the course which rockets skiers 80 feet into the air within eight seconds of leaving the start)?" one would ask.
"Remember Brian Stemmle's crash at the bottom of the Stallhang (the hardest turn in ski racing, where my teammate from Aurora crashed in 1989 and nearly ended his career)?"
The veterans also might talk about the Ziel schuss, which is the finish pitch on the course where Brooker had the most spectacular tumbling routine in ski-racing history, and where Cary Mullen set the new downhill speed record last year of 155 km/h.
All these things play on your mind as you take your first couple of pushes out of the course.
Luckily, by the time you hit the first gate you get caught up in the moment and spend the next two minutes hanging on as best you can to the world's greatest non-mechanical roller coaster.
For all its danger, like any good roller-coaster ride, all you want to do when you get to the bottom is get right back on.
That is the allure of Kitzbuehel.
It is the greatest, most exhilarating adrenaline rush you can achieve on two skis.
Next week will be the last race before heading over to Japan and we will be looking for strong results in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, to carry us into the Olympics on a positive note.