FEBRUARY 23, 1976
Austrian ski great Franz Klammer has lost neither his yen for speed nor his sense of style. Three times since he retired from elite competition in 1985, Klammer has won a Jeep for finishing first in a legends ski event, and each time he has given the vehicle away. "I race for the glory of being fast, not for a prize," Klammer says. "Well, unless the prize is a Mercedes."
In addition to maintaining his edge on the ski slopes, Klammer, 49, is an avid mountain biker and lives in Vienna with Eva, his wife of 23 years, and their daughters Sophie, 14, and Stephanie, 9. He competes in a handful of legends events each year and makes paid appearances at a dozen corporate outings annually, mostly in Europe and in the U.S. He also works as a ski commentator for Austrian and British TV networks and often bemoans the tempering of his specialty event. "Downhill racers today don't go through what we did," he says. "We had no netting, and we skied on ice and bumps. Now every course is perfectly groomed with extra turns to take away speed. It's too dull for spectators."
Klammer's gold-medal-winning downhill run at the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics was anything but dull. Several times he sailed through the air with arms flailing and skis askew, but he always righted himself en route to winning the race by .33 of a second in front of 60,000 screaming countrymen. Though his 25 career downhill victories are still the most in World Cup history, Klammer says he is most vividly recognized for the race in which he won his only Olympic medal. "A customs agent in the U.S. told me once, 'I remember you. You're the man who almost killed himself that day,' " he says.
Klammer's first purchase after the Innsbruck Games was a milking machine for his father, a cattle breeder in Mosswald, Austria. In 1977 Klammer launched a line of ski apparel, but the venture was short-lived. Eight years later, after closing his Olympic career with a 10th-place finish at the 1984 Sarajevo Games, he began a six-year run as a race car driver and won a European championship in the touring class.
He also manages the Franz Klammer Foundation, which offers financial assistance, counseling and medical referral to young athletes from all sports who have suffered disabling injuries. Klammer started the foundation shortly after a 1977 training-run spill left his younger brother Klaus, at the time a 19-year-old Austrian junior ski champion, paralyzed from the waist down. "Klaus had no insurance, but doctors cared for him because his name was Klammer," says Franz, whose brother now works as a tax lawyer in Lienz. "Others are not so lucky. I want to help."
In other words, Klammer is still setting high standards.