For the last four years, starting with the Innsbruck Olympics, the French have been the Green Bay Packers of Alpine ski racing, with that supple, handsome devil Jean-Claude Killy playing the glamour role of Bart Starr, and Marielle Goitschel enacting the part of, well, let us say, Ray Nitschke. Hardly a mountain exists where the French have not bombed everyone off the slopes. Now they are set to defend these laurels on their home ground. In spite of a January in which the Austrians and the Swiss have been threatening the French with renewed strength, it is difficult to find anyone on an Alp who does not believe that Killy and his pals will take away more gold from Grenoble than you would find in any neighborhood bank of Zurich.
As is the case with the Packers, Killy and Goitschel, the French superstars, have a pretty nifty supporting cast. Many of the names ring with almost as much frightening authority, in fact. Backing them up are the likes of Guy P�rillat, L�o Lacroix, Georges Mauduit, and those girls—Annie Famose, Isabelle Mir and Florence Steurer. These are the characters who took an appalling 16 of 24 medals at the 1966 FIS World Ski Championship in Chile. Then there are four talented newcomers: Bernard Orcel, a strong downhiller, Jean-Pierre Augert, a slalom ace who looks enough like Killy to sign autographs for him—and often does—another slalom skier, Alain Penz, and Roger Rossat-Mignod, a slightly chubby but quick giant-slalom specialist. It was skiers like these who a year ago, while racing on France's second string, defeated Austria's best in a team race of European nations.
Enjoying all of this more than anyone, with the possible exception of De Gaulle, is a happy little man with a Napoleonic haircut, Honor� Bonnet. Bonnet is France's Vince Lombardi, except he doesn't growl. He has quietly built the most powerful ski team in history and claims to have a national program now with 80 or 90 racers who could compete with the best after a well-timed period of brief but hard training. Killy and Goitschel have become world-famous athletes and a source of almost unbearable pride to their countrymen.
If Bonnet has seemed at times to smile all too wryly about his success, it is not only because winning has become a habit but because everybody keeps trying to figure out the secret, and the French claim there really isn't one.
Technique, for example, is a much abused word in ski racing. Every nation and skier is supposed to have a technique, particularly France. Every one has been talking about a new way of turning and of wiggling through gates. Once, when the French were considered graceful, the Swiss strong and the Austrians clever, there perhaps was a difference in styles. But Jean-Claude Killy maintains that he has changed all this and that the overemphasis on technique has gone the way of the baggy pants in big-time racing.
"I have always skied on instinct," says Killy. "If people say I look pretty in a race, then I know I am not winning."
Killy says, "Before I became a champion, a racer would try to outsmart the course. He would check at turns, control his speed, plan an attack. It was thought that style helped increase speed. But with me, it became a matter of just go—go faster than you think you can on every part of the course. I take all the risks. That is my secret."
Killy does not believe he has a special way of keeping both skis on the snow, which makes for speed, or of driving close to slalom poles or of making valuable time on the dangerous downhill turns. He just goes. One thing he does do, which sets him apart, is shift his weight more quickly, more instinctively, than any of his competitors. On highspeed turns, Killy, earlier than others, will shift his weight to his uphill or inside ski, almost always as the downhill ski is about to wander and slow him down. Instinct again. Then he sits back and thrusts his skis forward, accelerating as he comes out of a turn. This takes superb conditioning and the reflexes and balance of an acrobat.
"If I do that," says Jean-Claude, "I don't realize it." Honor� Bonnet agrees with Killy about technique. "It is pass� to dwell on it," he says. "There are many things that come before technique. Foremost, a racer must have intelligence and a good eye. Then he must have courage, confidence and pride. All of this is Killy."
Because he has proved repeatedly that he is the classiest racer in the world in all three events, downhill, giant slalom and slalom (he won 16 out of the 20 races he entered last year), Killy must be considered the favorite in each of the three men's Alpine events at Grenoble. Winning all three would be a trick that has been performed only once before—by Austria's Toni Sailer in 1956. But as good as the Frenchman is, simply because of circumstances, he will need a lot of luck to duplicate Sailer's extraordinary feat.