In December 1961, Killy won his first international race, a giant slalom. That victory was especially sweet because the event took place in Val-dTsere and because he had started 39th, a position that should have been a severe disadvantage. He was 18.
Bonnet decided to pick Killy for the GS in the 1962 world championships in Chamonix, 50 miles away in the shadow of Mont Blanc. It would be, he felt, a great French debut for this great French teenager. But Killy, who didn't yet know he had been selected, was still attempting to qualify for the downhill. In Cortina, only three weeks before the worlds were to begin, he raced a downhill in his typical hell-bent style. Two hundred yards from the finish he hit a bit of ice in a compression and went down in a windmilling heap. He rose immediately and crossed the finish line on one ski with the best clocking of the day. His other leg was broken, and he watched the world championships on crutches.
At the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, the promising young racer was entered in all three of the men's events because, he says, "Bonnet wanted to prepare me for the 1968 Games." But Killy was plagued by recurrences of amebic dysentery and hepatitis, ailments that he had contracted in 1962 during a summer of compulsory service with the French army in Algeria, and his Olympic form was off. He fell ignominiously a few yards after the start of the downhill, lost a binding in the special slalom and finished fifth in the GS, in which he had been the heavy favorite.
Two years passed before Killy put together a string of victories that was not blighted by something bad or tragic. In August 1966, he won the downhill—his first victory in that event against an international field—at the world championships in Portillo. He faltered in his best events, the slalom and the GS, because his Algerian stomach troubles returned, but the gold medals in the downhill and the combined were portents of future successes. In the 1966-67 season he was nearly invincible. Killy won 23 of 30 races, including all five World Cup downhills.
In July 1967, Killy met McCormack for the first time. The introduction was engineered by cartoonist Hank Ket-cham, the creator of Dennis the Menace, an IMG client who lived in Geneva. McCormack remembers well the first dinner he and Killy had together. "He ordered a glass of wine, and I made some crack about how he was breaking training," says McCormack. "He sipped from his glass and said, 'Would you rather I drank milk and skied like an American?' "
Even though the Grenoble Olympics were only seven months away and excitement was growing over what this fabulous Frenchman might do in a French Games, Killy was actually thinking about retiring. Says Killy, "I had had such a great season in '67 that I asked Mark, 'Shouldn't I retire now? My value is very large, and what if I lose at Grenoble?' Mark said immediately, 'Whether you lose or win in the Olympics doesn't matter. The Games are so big that you will get publicity you can't get any other way.' "
Early in the 1967-68 season, McCor-mack's advice wasn't looking very good. Killy was skiing as if he had indeed switched to milk. In the six World Cup races leading up to the Games, he won only one. He suffered from bad skis, bad boots and a bad stomach.
The downhill was the first of Killy's events in Grenoble. Wind pounded up the mountain and starts were delayed. He took what should have been a routine warmup run down the side of the course on his racing skis. He realized too late that he had skied on abrasive, sandpaperlike ice, which had ground almost all the wax off his skis. He couldn't replace it at the top of the windswept mountain, because wax has to be applied hot while the skis are at room temperature. Killy was starting No. 14. As he waited, he swaggered about, putting on an arrogant act for his rivals, but when they were out of earshot, he whispered to his friend and ski technician Michel Arpin, "It is lost."
"I knew the wax was almost all gone," says Killy now, "and I decided I might as well ski as if all hope was gone, too." He sprang out of the gate using the catapult leap start that he had invented and that only he had mastered, a start which at times gave him as much as a half-second advantage over racers who used the conventional starting style.
"My start was tremendous, and I took every risk I could find on the course," says Killy. "I also had a little secret I knew about the finish line. Early in the practice runs, I had realized that if I cut a sharp line just at the pole on the right, I could actually gain a couple of meters. I had never taken this line during practice, because I didn't want anyone to know about it."