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Dan Jenkins
March 08, 1965
Leader of U.S. defense against European challenge, Billy Kidd speeds down training slope for Coach Beattie
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March 08, 1965

A Bullet In The Rockies

Leader of U.S. defense against European challenge, Billy Kidd speeds down training slope for Coach Beattie

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Alpine ski racing is the sport in which an athlete hopes to streak down from the top of a mountain to the bottom of a cup of hot chocolate faster than a speeding bullet—and never mind if he risks cracking his skull against a tree trunk on the way. It has nothing to do with pleasure skiing. There are no pauses for yodeling, lighting up a filter tip or conning the best dished-up bunny on the snow into thinking the old leg won't take it today. Ski racing is a dangerous, instinctive plunge, requiring nerve, concentration and stamina. It is also a sport in which the U.S., despite a fierce dedication to the goal, has yet to outbrave or out-streak the powerful Austrians and French. Those Europeans, seemingly, soon after birth develop legs with seven-foot-long slats attached in place of feet. The U.S. trailed them in third place at the 1962 World Championships in Chamonix and last year in the Innsbruck Olympics.

Next week, in the high Rockies at Vail, Colo., the U.S. confronts the Austrians and French on home snow, and this time the carving skis of Billy Kidd (see cover), possibly our finest racer ever, might—just might—put America over the top. The Vail events begin the biggest and most exciting invasion of American slopes by Alpine experts since handsome Austrian instructors discovered that well-heeled American bunnies were in need of handsome Austrian instruction. This happens to be an off year in international ski racing, with the next world championships not scheduled until the summer of 1966 at Portillo, Chile and the Winter Olympics in Grenoble three long winters away. Even so, the Swiss and Canadians are so provoked at not being asked to Vail that they are invading a few days later for the best of the remaining U.S. meets, including the Harriman Cup at Sun Valley and the National Championships at Crystal Mountain, Wash. Besides the Americans, they will find the French and Austrians at Sun Valley and the Austrians staying on for the Nationals.

The man responsible for the invasion is the coach of the U.S. national team, blustery, fast-moving, scheming, dedicated Bob Beattie (rhymes with ski-batty), the self-appointed savior of U.S. Alpine hopes and dreams.

For years America lived in the apr�s-ski world of cocktail parties and individual training, and had trouble understanding why the Europeans raced better. Then along came Beattie, who is the University of Colorado ski coach in his spare time, with a simple and unsettling message. "We got to get off our butts and ski faster," growled Beattie. Since 1961 his training methods, which have called for unprecedented physical and mental exertion on the part of his racers, have drawn criticism from such skiing personalities as Denver University Coach Willy Schaeffler, Beattie's main collegiate rival; Olympic gold medalist Andrea Mead Lawrence; and friends of Mammoth Mountain's Coach Dave McCoy, whose easygoing nature is preferred by the girl racers. But while his critics have nattered, Beattie has worked. "You can't take college kids from the framework of our society and beat the Europeans, who've done nothing but ski all their lives, unless you work and get tough," he says. "You can't go from a cocktail party to a slalom and beat Karl Schranz."

Last year Beattie, despite his promises of a breakthrough, almost snow-plowed into obscurity before the last men's race of the Olympics. But on that cold day outside Innsbruck, with thousands lining the slalom course, Billy Kidd and Jimmy Heuga, two quiet, determined, 20-year-old Beattie loyalists, won silver and bronze medals. These, as followers of skiing will recall, were the first men's Olympic medals ever taken by Americans. Then one week later in Garmisch at the Arlberg Kandahar, the Masters Tournament of skiing, Jimmy Heuga won the slalom and, another first for the U.S., the combined.

Bob Beattie's reaction to this last-hour success was predictable. He did not feel rescued or pardoned from the wrath of his critics. He simply released a little more energy. "We finally lit the fires," he said, sounding a bit like Football Coach Bear Bryant and relishing it.

Bob Beattie's critics did him no real harm, for he was reappointed as national coach last June. The only point on which they were close to the target was that he showed harshness and impatience in handling the girl racers. Even so, Jean Saubert came very close to getting two golds at Innsbruck, and lost out only because those rowdy French girls, Marielle and Christine Goitschel, came up with superperformances. Indeed, the thing the ruling powers of the U.S. Ski Association realized, even if some of the critics did not, was that Beattie had given American racers a spirit and program they had never had. He still works 24 hours a day, arranging, persuading, cajoling, coaching, phoning, figuring, worrying, to sustain it.

What Beattie has given to U.S. ski racing was expressed recently by Jean-Claude Killy, France's newest star and the best skier in Europe today. Killy, a soulful, lean, blue-eyed citizen of Vald'Is�re (his father's hotel and sports shop is a quick schuss from the Goitschel pension), is a close friend of Jimmy Heuga who attended Beattie's early training camp at Bend, Ore. in August. "The Americans have a spirit that has made me better understand the sport," Killy says. "They are passionate, and they have fun. Their way represents the ideal to me. And they are now formidable racers."

Beattie is a man of formidable impulses, a doer. He no sooner envisioned the three-way American International meet, as the Vail races are called, than he went straight to ABC-TV and sold it for the network's Wide World of Sports. Television money will pay for bringing the Austrians and French to the U.S. Before this "off year" is over, six American races will have been televised, thanks to Beattie's hard sell.

Beattie's coaching and private lives have long since fused into one—one big blur of motion, unrest, gruffness, extreme pleasure and perpetual crisis. Beattie seems to believe that whatever he does is a mere step toward a loftier goal that will somehow define itself before he arrives. For example, he was walking one day along Broadway, the campus drag in Boulder, when he saw a vacant building. He leased it with no money, called his brother Jack in Laconia, N.H. and said, "We're partners in a ski shop, come on out." Jack came, and the Alpine Haus is now a successful business. Bob Beattie rarely sees it.

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