SI Vault
Robert Ball
November 21, 1960
Ski Champion Toni Sailer is making money faster than he ever made the finish line in his days as an amateur
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November 21, 1960

Racing Toward Riches

Ski Champion Toni Sailer is making money faster than he ever made the finish line in his days as an amateur

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The young man at left gliding over the ice with a pretty girl on his arm is Toni Sailer, triple medal winner at the Cortina Olympics (SI, Feb. 13, 1956). Two of Toni's Olympic prizes were won in the zigzag slalom and giant slalom races, the third in a downhill race. Since then, the career of L'il Abner of the Alps has moved agreeably uphill, demonstrating that a champion skier has as much chance for wealth and fame as a champion golfer or tennis player. The three gold medals were, in fact, a foretoken of what Toni has become: an animated gold mine with himself as principal prospector and shareholder. In the past three years his earnings from three businesses which he owns wholly or in part, a ghostwritten book, records and films have totaled more than $125,000. The bulk of the money comes from movies; his five films to date have been moneymakers; and its producers hope the same will be true of the next one, Der weisse Traum (The White Dream), for which he is shown rehearsing with his leading lady, Ina Bauer.

Toni is, nowadays, a man of property and himself a property in the show-business sense of the term. In 1958, in a poll on what Austrian had done the most for his country, Toni placed fifth, just behind Mozart. Some Austrians found this proximity absurd. Mozart with his music never made anything like the money Toni makes with his records, in which he croons sentimental ballads in a so-so voice.

However much he has done for his country, he has done very well for himself—and with himself. For Toni is his own best commodity. Dark-haired and soft-eyed, he is extraordinarily good-looking, and his screen fans, mostly women, are likely to make whimpering animal noises at the sight of him. All they ask of Toni is that he stand around so they can have a good look at him. Film critics agree that he is very good at standing around.

Toni's official switch from gold medals to gold coin came in 1959, a year after he won the FIS world ski championship at Bad Gastein. By that time he had already appeared in one movie, which half-heartedly dodged the amateur question by putting him on water skis instead of snow skis. In his second picture, however, there was so much snow-skiing footage that it was almost as though he were doing his own life story. All of this brought criticism from sports officials, and Toni decided to retire, rather than risk the international hassle which would have developed had he tried to keep racing right through the Squaw Valley Olympics.

His first business venture was Sailer-Tex, a wholesale firm manufacturing elastic material for ski pants, in partnership with Dr. Angelo Maestrelli of Milan. The partners are closemouthed as to figures, but the indications are that they're doing all right. Toni loyally wears Sailer-Tex stretch pants when occasion allows, which has been often enough to bring orders from all over Europe, North and South America, and Japan.

With the stretch pants selling briskly, Toni went into the hotel business. An inn called Haus Toni Sailer was built in Toni's home town of Kitzb�hel on land presented to him after Cortina by grateful fellow villagers. It is four-storied and gabled and looks like something out of one of those operettas where the chorus girls wear dirndls and the chorus boys yodel. The inn with its 32 beds is booked solid from Christmas through March, the winter sports season. Toni's drawing power is such that even summer business has been good—an achievement rather like attracting skin-divers into the Sahara.

In literature, too, Toni is making his mark—his marks, anyway: 200,000 of them so far on the total sales of his ghosted autobiography, Mein Weg zum dreifachen Olympia-Sieg (roughly How I Won the Triple Crown). It sold 160,000 copies in the German edition, 30,000 in the Japanese and 10,000 in the French. An American edition is being prepared.

His latest venture is the marketing of a new type of plastic ski. It was developed by a Kitzb�hel neighbor in his workshop and tested by Toni, who recommends it. It is made of a combination of plastic and fiber glass. According to its promoters, it combines the advantages of metal skis and wooden ones. This winter is the first that the Toni Sailer Fibreglaski is in full production, and some 1,500 pairs of skis are now on their way to dealers in Europe, the U.S. and Canada. Toni says: "It's an ideal ski for average skiers." That's to say, for anyone who can afford to pay $135 to $140 a pair.

But Toni's greatest success remains in films. His fame as an actor has spread as far as Japan, where he traveled last year to make King of the Snowy Summits, a box office success that so far has made $250,000 from an attendance of a million and a half.

The acting career started shakily. He had been invited to Munich's Geiselgasteig studio for a secondary part in an Alpine love story. He competed with 20 professional actors and lost. "Nobody told me what to do," he says. "They just put makeup on me and handed me a script. It was awful."

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