SI Vault
Bob Ottum
August 15, 1966
A broken leg ruined the hopes of the men, but some young U.S. girls surprised themselves and their coach with big performances in the opening event of the world Alpine ski championships at Portillo, Chile
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 15, 1966

Found: A Pretty Penny

A broken leg ruined the hopes of the men, but some young U.S. girls surprised themselves and their coach with big performances in the opening event of the world Alpine ski championships at Portillo, Chile

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2

Kidd was less lucky. "I made it all the way to the last tunnel," he said. "I really came off it flying. When I came down—after forever—I was all right. That is, I landed on both feet. But the jolt knocked my goggles down over my eyes, and I couldn't see. I veered to the right and crashed off the course. I remember cartwheeling. My knees smashed up against my face a couple of times and chipped one of my front teeth. When I landed I felt a pain in my right ankle and thought, 'Well, that's good. At least I didn't hurt my left leg again. Maybe it's just a sprain and I can get it taped up before the race.' When they got to me I lay there and told them, 'Take my right ski off first, fellas.' But my right ski was already off. So then I raised up and looked down at my right leg. I was lying flat, but my leg was bent up in the air."

Word was flashed back to the lodge that Kidd had broken his leg, and any hope of a superior showing by the U.S. men's team seemed to have been shattered with it. Jimmy Heuga, at his best in the slalom, now had to try and fill Kidd's ski boots in the downhill, but the best he could do on Sunday was finish 19th as France's Killy won. Worse yet, the downhill course claimed another American during the race, when 19-year-old Walter Falk fell and suffered serious head injuries.

On the other hand, Beattie's Babies were making precocious noises. All four of them earned seedings in the first 15 places for the ladies' slalom, and the starting draw for Friday's race sprinkled them advantageously among the first eight spots. Cathy Allen, 20, of Mammoth Mountain, Calif. had the first starting position, her sister, Wendy, 21, the third, Penny McCoy, 16, also of Mammoth, the sixth, and Jean Saubert, 24, silver medalist in the 1964 Olympics, the eighth.

The two slalom courses at Portillo were unusually steep, averaging about 32� of fast drop through 52 gates. On the first course Nancy Greene rifled down in 45.54 to take the lead. After her came Famose and Marielle Goitschel. But then came Cathy Allen and Saubert in the fourth and fifth spots, and McCoy and Wendy Allen in the seventh and eighth. Though competing against Europe's best, North Americans had come up with five of the first eight positions. If there had been a crowd, it would have cheered wildly.

Now, confronted with a real chance to do well, the American girls added some drama as well as speed to the championships in the person of Penny McCoy. Penny is a small honey blonde who will never frighten any of the European girls on a hillside, since most European girl skiers, Famose being a noteworthy exception, come in large, economy sizes. She is a wide-eyed youngster, and as she climbed back up for the second run of the slalom her blue-green eyes filled with tears and there was an unmistakable sound of sniffling. She was not scared of the run, but she was terrified that she would do something simply awful and embarrass the United States of America, and all of its territories, too. Sixteen-year-old girls worry about that sort of thing. If she looked down, there would be Coach Beattie standing far below, squinting up at her. And if she looked up, there would be the U.S. women's coach, Chuck Ferries, far above, stormy as a breaking hurricane. The more Penny thought about it, the more she sniffled.

At about this time she caught the attention of Jean Saubert, who was standing on the starting platform with the taped knuckles and the firm look that meant this was old stuff to her. "Listen, Penny," said Jean, "what is there to worry about? I mean, really. I remember before I started my second run back at Innsbruck I was two whole seconds behind. But I made a fast run and won the silver medal. So just settle down and do your best."

McCoy, who had been 1.74 seconds off the pace set by Greene in the first run, dried her eyes and got back to work. When her turn came, she started winging down like a pint-sized Batgirl, dancing from gate to gate. Beattie, looking startled for the first time all week, suddenly began howling, "My God. Go, McCoy. Go." Penny went. She cut her second run to 45.07, beating even her counselor, Saubert, and earning the U.S. its first Portillo medal, as Annie Famose won the race, with Marielle Goitschel second. Behind Penny came Saubert and Cathy Allen. Greene, unable to recapture her first-run rhythm, was seventh and Wendy Allen eighth, giving the U.S. four of the first eight places.

"How about that?" cried Saubert to Beattie, and she told him of her talk with Penny at the top of the hill. "And you know what?" she said. "The part I said to Penny about my being two seconds behind at Innsbruck wasn't even true. Golly. I can't remember how far behind I was. But what I said worked all right, didn't it?"

It was not much later that Bronze Medal Winner McCoy, who could be the start of something for the U.S., was picking her way through the mob in the old lodge clutching an enormous bouquet of flowers. "Gee," she said, "all those European racers are so big and so experienced and all. They used to scare me to death. But you know what? They won't frighten me again."

1 2