"He does that to psych the other racers," said Billy Kidd. "He especially wants the Austrians to think he isn't serious about the races."
Killy jumped with his number tied around his neck and his socks pulled out over his pants. As he soared into the cold night air of Wengen under the full flood lights, he dropped his pants to his knees, and the horrified gasp that greeted this clownish act could be heard, you felt, as far away as Interlaken in the valley below.
Afterward Killy, being proudly slapped about by his French pals—Guy P�rillat, Jules Melquiond, Michel Arpin—lit a cigar, put on a small billed taxi driver's cap backward and strode away, leaving a flock of psyched racers behind. Killy did not win the Lauberhorn slalom (he was sixth), but neither did Kidd, who fell, and neither did Killy's foremost adversaries, the Austrians. P�rillat did.
The next stop for the racers was the lively town of Kitzb�hel for the Hahnenkamm meet. Killy and Kidd both starred in different ways. Kidd raced a surprisingly gutty downhill, placing third, only 8/10 of a second behind that durable winner of downhills, Austria's Karl Schranz. It was the best downhill race by an American in seven years. Killy flashed to the slalom victory.
It was in the slalom that Billy Kidd crashed and injured his ankle, thus temporarily ending the brief but exciting rivalry between the American and the Frenchman. It will be renewed next month at Stowe, when Killy and the other first-class Europeans come to the U.S. for our national championships, and then at Sun Valley for the Werner Cup (American International team races). After Kidd limped home to rest up for three weeks Jean-Claude won a giant slalom in Bad Weise, Germany and a special slalom at Meg�ve. Overall, Killy has now started in 14 separate races and has won exactly seven of them, plus two combines. Slowly he has overpowered Kidd, who won two race victories and two combined championships before he was temporarily sidelined. Schranz has won three race victories and three combined championships.
Throughout all of the competition the difference in styles of the three racers has been clearly etched into the white Alps. The French and Americans are still reckless, and the Austrians are still conservative. While Killy and Kidd do not look the same as they blur down a course, they have more in common with each other than they do with the Austrians. Schranz, who is 27 and has nine hard racing years behind him, skis like a typical Austrian racer. He is cautious and steady, assumes a stand-up posture and relies heavily on the strength in his legs and his vast experience and confidence to carry him through. Killy and Kidd are also distinctive. Kidd is smooth and flows. Killy is bouncy and plunges. They both try to take the corners and the curves and the gates faster in a win-or-nothing attitude. The Austrian strategy seems to be to let the others fall.
"It is nothing new," says Killy. "I have always skied this way, double or nothing, and I know the Americans are coached that way, too."
Like any ski racer who may one day be the head of a school of instructors or own his own pension, or even his own mountain, Killy likes to think he has a special style or secret way of getting down a slope and that he is calculatingly doing something dark and mysterious that others are not doing. He talks of his serpent method, in which, he says, he keeps his skis flat on the trail and eliminates edging, and his cramponnage method, which hangs him higher at a gate, reducing the swing of a turn, keeping him directly down the hill. But you cannot watch him race and believe that he does anything but ski like hell in an acrobatic, diving, recovering, jerking fashion. Absolutely natural, the way he has done it since he fastened on his first pair of skis at the age of 3 in Val d'Is�re.
Broad-shouldered, but lean and hard at 5 feet 10 and 161 pounds, Killy is the easiest of all racers to identify from a distance when he is spinning down a slalom. He will twist his hips like a good Watusi dancer, suddenly skate through a gate, just as suddenly carve too wide, recover, bounce, then shoot like a jagged bolt of lightning through a flush (a series of close gates), come out of it off balance, regain, speed up, carve again and skate through the finish, almost lunging, the gate poles all wiggling behind him where he has half brushed them and half torn them out of the snow. This is a secret method?
Off the racing slopes Jean-Claude Killy does do things differently, and a lot of them give him more color and allure than his slalom technique. He drives sports cars the way he skis, and he has owned six different cars. He has also managed to wreck each one, including a Porsche and two Alfa Romeos. Between these, he has owned a Peugeot-404 three times but, inasmuch as he has a not-so-silent yearning to be a race car driver one day if he ever quits skiing, he finds the serviceable Peugeot "too bourgeois" and prefers something fast and streamlined.