I had never seen anything like it, and neither had much of the world, when Austrian Franz Klammer rocketed down the slope to win gold in the men’s downhill at the 1976 Winter Olympics.
The course on Patscherkofel mountain just outside Innsbruck, Austria, was just under two miles long, with a total vertical drop of nearly 3,000 feet.
It took Klammer less than two minutes to win gold. His official time was 1:45.73 and his average speed was around 64 miles per hour. Silver medalist Bernhard Russi of Switzerland was 0.33 seconds slower, equivalent to 30 feet at the finish line.
In replays available online, Klammer can be seen descending, barely in control, never holding back as he flew rather than glided down the narrow course.
There were reportedly 66,000 people – mostly Austrian – lining the slope and Klammer’s death-defying run was narrated in epic detail for ABC by Frank Gifford.
In an interview some years later, Gifford described the elation of the Innsbruck crowd and said he had to leave the celebratory schnapps behind and head back to the studio to announce the replay for U.S. television viewers.
As a 15-year-old Southern California boy, it was the first time I had ever seen anything like it.
I still remember being in awe as the skiers made their runs, one after another, then jaw-dropped staring as Klammer took his turn.
I later got my chance to ski the Austrian Alps, Utah and eventually sampled the slopes at Brandywine after moving to Ohio. One of my most vivid memories is gliding through heavy fog down a long, easy run in Garmish, Austria. Another is plunging down a sheer cliff, nearly out of control, at Snowbird in Utah. It was at the edge of my skill level.
Not all Northeast Ohioans bemoan winter’s frigid temperatures and snow.
Many gather each year at the Kent State University Ice Arena and at Brandywine Ski Resort for the Ohio Special Olympics Winter Games. I’ve covered the event for many years, and it’s always a great place to find inspirational stories.
People who need help with their daily lives due to intellectual disabilities are challenged each winter to take their lives into their own hands, expand their horizons and aim for goals that are beyond their everyday experience. It’s usually cold, and the crowd has a blast out at Brandywine. The camaraderie is palpable when the crowd breaks for lunch in the resort’s dining hall.
At the PyeongChang Olympics, one of this winter’s inspirational Winter Olympic stories is that of 17-year-old Red Gerard. Now living in Colorado, the native of Rocky River won Team USA’s first gold medal Saturday in the Slopestyle snowboarding event.
It’s a sport where multiples of 360 degrees are used to calculate the number of revolutions competitors make on jumps spanning hundreds of feet. When I watched Klammer, nobody had ever heard of snowboards, much less dreamed of doing a 1620 — 4 1/2 revolutions.
While trying to cut his interview short with a Cleveland-area reporter on Saturday, Gerard said he got his start at Brandywine.
The resort was thrilled to salute him on its Facebook page: "It’s awesome seeing an individual who got his start at Brandywine going on to do huge things in the Ski Industry. Anything is possible with hard work and dedication!"
Well, anything is possible within reason. Although I have always dreamed of flying down the mountain like Klammer, the best I can hope for is perhaps a slow-speed approximation.
Today, I ski cross country when there’s enough snow on the ground and I’m not recovering from the flu – as I have been for the past couple of weeks.
I usually ski The Portage – the hike and bike trail between Kent and Ravenna – though I also occasionally use the ski trails at Towner’s Woods. The trail at Longwood Park in Macedonia is also a nice.
The Portage is flat, smooth and just right for getting a nice, steady glide. The trail through Towner’s Woods is full of hills, which make it a real challenge to keep one’s pace, as if you don’t increase your effort on the hills, your skiing ends up being a slow, monotonous plod.
Years ago, dozens of people gathered for cross country races at Towner’s. The woods and trails were full of people enjoying the outdoors, even though it was cold. I imagine hot chocolate and coffee helped mark the day as a time to remember.
I’ve always found the Olympic games inspiring. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate snowboarding, hockey, ski jumping and all the other incredible endeavors the games showcase. And while there aren’t huge mountains like those in the Rockies or New England, there are plenty of winter activities in Northeast Ohio, as well as places within a day’s drive where people congregate, just as they congregate in mid-summer.
And, believe it or not, it sometimes makes me sad to see winter end.
Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or firstname.lastname@example.org.