He has the lonely, soulful, semitragic, slightly tortured, sit-down-and-I-will-tell-you-some-stories-of-betrayal-and-suffering look that instantly makes most women 5-to-1 underdogs. He is young and unappalled and as French as truffles in your scrambled eggs. The way he is at 22, with his obsessional love of speed and daring and with his fool-hardy nature and that look of his—the Jean-Paul Belmondo look (see cover)—you get illusions just seeing him. You get the idea that if he had come along 25 years earlier he would surely have been one of those Frenchmen who stuck knives in Gestapo agents, tapped out radio messages to the Allies from a reeking Paris cellar and left Mich�le Morgan dripping tears on her loaf of bread by a foggy bank on the Seine. But Jean-Claude Killy is fighting a far less dramatic war. It is the simple war of men on skis against snow on mountains, and the thing you should know about him right off is that he is probably the best ski racer in the world just now.
The world of Alpine racing, in which Killy not only excels but clowns and cavorts, is one of the most glamorous in sport. The scenery is nifty, the clothes are niftier and the villages where a lot of the big races occur—Kitzb�hel, Meg�ve, Sun Valley—all sound like the ideal spots to meet Her or Him and to see a whole pile of shahs, princesses, novelists, artists and dukes. And there is some of that. But it is also a world that operates in confusion, jealousy, backwardness and mismanagement and too often seems impossible to understand and follow, much less govern. To know Killy better and what he has achieved and where he might be heading in his own French way, you should know something about the racing scene.
The primary nations involved are France, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Canada and the U.S., and they have no great liking for each other in the sport (if indeed in anything else). All of them are constantly claiming to have the best in resorts, equipment, instructions, rules, clothes, attitudes, trails and, at times, blondes. As a consequence, a regular annual schedule of races has never really been established to give the sport a continuity, to give the athlete, competing against hundredths of seconds on a clock, a chance to blaze an unarguable record, and a nation a chance to grab a clear supremacy. Reputations either schuss or snowplow, unfortunately, on what happens in the Winter Olympics every four years. On the even year between Olympics there are the FIS ( F�d�ration Internationale de Ski) world championships (they will be held this August in faraway Portillo, Chile) and a scattering of Lauberhorns, Hahnenkamms and Kandahars—and a lot more arguing.
The point is, a ski racer has too few major opportunities to prove himself a giant, and when he does—when a Toni Sailer comes along, or a Christian Pravda, an Emile Allais or a Stein Eriksen—it is judged to be a phenomenon to equal the buckled boot. Jean-Claude Killy is everybody's choice to be the next phenomenon.
"Poof," says Killy to this, blowing through his lips. "I ski and see what happens."
Last year was what skiing called an off year, meaning there were no truly big meets (is it asking too much for Alpine racing to stage a world championship every year?), but Jean-Claude won just about everything there was to win. He won the big ones at Kitzb�hel, Meg�ve, Davos and Vail—and a lot of things called Coupe des Pays Alpins and such—and when it was over, the FIS rated him first in slalom, first in giant slalom and sixth in downhill. Shy of an Olympic or FIS gold medal, Killy was as good as he could be.
This winter he has done nothing to prove the judges wrong. In a sense, it is another off winter, because the world championships in August are so insanely far away—thank you, FIS—but after trading victories early with America's Billy Kidd, the wiry Frenchman has moved ahead, and Kidd, woe unto U.S. skiing again, has reinjured a chronically weak ankle.
The box score on Jean-Claude Killy through seven major meets of 1966 is a dandy. He began in his home Alps of Val d'Is�re in a meet called the Criterion of the First Snow and promptly won the downhill, the giant slalom and the combined, having placed second in the slalom. (For nonskiers, combined means the best total time for all events.) Then Billy Kidd arrived.
At Hindelang, a remote lump of hills in Germany, Killy and Kidd exchanged slalom victories, but the American was best in combined, after Jean-Claude, who races down a course as if Sophia Loren were waiting at the finish, fell. Next came Adelboden in Switzerland, a giant slalom meet. They again traded first places in two races, but again Kidd won the combined when Killy hooked a gate and crashed.
Suddenly now Kidd, not Killy, seemed to deserve all of the attention in Europe, and you would normally think that it would bother the Frenchman. But enter, forthwith, a strange yet important facet of Jean-Claude's personality: that of a clown. When the racers moved on to Wengen, Switzerland for the Lauberhorn meet, Kidd was favored and Killy was fresh from two spills. That was the situation three nights before the races proper when the Lauberhorn officials staged a ski jump on a small 100-foot hill for fun, to entertain the tourists. Killy entered.