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Meanwhile the U.S. girls made their own contributions. Grinning, colorful Suzy Chaffee sped to a stunning third in the giant slalom. Through the first two days of racing, in fact, the U.S. threatened to beat Austria for second place, a prospect that had a lot of fans in Vail keeping bars open through the night.
That hope slowly disappeared with the downhill events, and it came to a concluding splat when Suzy Chaffee took one of the major league falls of the season. Though tall and pretty, Suzy is a fierce competitor, one who seems determined to take America to the peak of Mt. Everest as a ski team. The downhill is her best event, and through the first half of the Vail run her time was faster than any, even that of World Champion Erika Schinegger of Austria who eventually won the race. But Suzy suddenly went out of control coming off a curve and did a 50-yard end-over-ender, the result of which, sadly, was a dislocated hip.
Why Jean-Claude Killy never takes one of these eggbeaters with his daredevil technique—indeed, why he keeps on beating the stretch pants off everyone—is a mystery that is driving the other ski nations buggy. Killy has his own explanation of his success.
"In the past I have always concentrated on the difficult part of the courses," he said, softly. "But now I try to make time everywhere, especially on the flats and easy parts. I try to make time, especially where others may fail."
He said, "I also train harder now during the racing season. I think about nothing but ski, eat and sleep. I used to make jokes, you know, with my good friends, the Americans. But they are trying more seriously. They are not so much fun, because they are trying to beat me."
Not bragging, but simply stating a truth, Jean-Claude said, "When you are the best in the world, you can't make too many jokes, anyhow, no?"
The government-subsidized French racing program contributes to the edge, Killy feels. For example, Coach Honor� Bonnet has it so well organized that in early December training in Val-d'ls�re, Killy's home, the team members can sometimes run 450 slalom gates a day without having to climb the hills to replace the knocked-down poles—and thus risk wearing themselves out. "We can better concentrate on technique," Killy said, explaining that from 10 to 20 team helpers stand by the practice course and man the gates. Such a broad program makes the Americans drool and the Austrians look troubled.
"We have never worked so hard, like the Austrians, that we got tired," he said. "We don't start skiing until Nov. 10. Before that we ride bicycles and run. After Jackson Hole I will not ski until next November, except for maybe 10 days this summer on the Col del'Iseran when I try out some new skis and boots."
Killy only grins at the claims of the Austrians that while he's good, he is also lucky. "I do not think it is so much luck," he said. "I am confident, and this is very important, of course. It was most important to me that I do well in Austria, and that is why Kitzb�hel was really my peak this year."
At Kitzb�hel in the Hahnenkamm races. Killy flashed to a new record in the downhill, burying the nearest Austrian by nearly four seconds—an incredible humiliation in skiing—and to make matters worse for Toni Sailer's home town, Killy had the fastest time in both runs of the slalom, and won it easily. That was in January. He could have stopped there and still been the biggest thing in France since Bardot's bikini. But Killy has forgotten how to lose.