Now came the biggest blow of all to America's chances. Billy Kidd was in fine form, oozing confidence. Up in the special Olympic Village at Chamrousse where the Alpiners were hidden, the talk was all about how Kidd and Killy were looking better than anyone on this turny, technical course that was not as fast as it was deceptive, not as steep as it was windy, unpredictable, shadowy and just plain hard.
"In places," said Kidd, "it's like trying to ski on the outside of a basketball."
In the nonstop Kidd burst from the gate and zipped around the first turn and the hairpin as he had no less than 10 times previously. Then came another right-hand turn. As Kidd approached, a 60-mile gust enveloped him, and the wind lashed a spray of white powder over his skis. For a split second he felt a tiny knob, or something strange, beneath him. He jerked back, his tips crossed—at least he believes they did—and in the terrible next few seconds for both Kidd and America, the best U.S. racer was in a grinding spill that twisted his left ankle, one that has been injured before. He could still race while heavily taped, but neither his ankle nor his confidence would be like new. Thus he was a feeble 18th in the downhill, losing to racers he can normally defeat with ease.
On the same afternoon of nonstop training, Spider Sabich took a spectacular tumble that sent both of his skis sailing into the clouds and him into the snow. He escaped serious injury, suffering only a bruised heel, but his performance encouraged Coach Bob Beattie to put young Jere Elliott instead of Spider in the race. Elliott had no better luck. Lunging for speed, he got out of control, went into a cocktail blender routine and took about 30 feet of a snow fence down, slightly injuring his shoulder. This encouraged Beattie to start Sabich, not Elliott, in the giant slalom.
Back at the crash pad, Elliott's fall was nothing compared to that of big Jim (Moose) Barrows. Nobody's fall was—ever. If medals were given for courage, or for wanting to go fast, Barrows would win every one. A friendly hulk of a fellow from Steamboat Springs, Colorado who has played football and driven in jalopy derbies, Jim went out of the starting gate as if he thought he had a chance to chase down Killy. Soon he was nearing the Col de la Balme, a murderous little section. You come into the first bump there from a steep schuss. You kind of go glump and then pre-jump, then hold it, and then prejump the next bump, all of this at about 60 miles per hour, and then you are out of it. Fifteen racers spun out there, and in his fall Barrows looked like three of them.
He came down the steep part obviously out of control, too far to the right, near the little red flags that mark the end of the world. Horribly, he sat back, his skis went out and forward off the first bump, and then up, up and away. Fifteen feet up and into the gray haze he flew, lazily spiraling—a space walker without an umbilical cord. As it happened, Moose seemed to hang in the air for an hour, and you had time to ponder, during your shriek, whether he would land on his head or on another continent. He landed on his right shoulder, upside down, then crashed forward, his skis jamming into the trail, and just lay there. A helicopter rescue later, Barrows was lucky to have only a dislocated hip and was building model airplanes in a military hospital in Grenoble.
"Yeah, I was going too fast," he said. "But you don't win medals cooling it."
Further proof that an American did not even have to be in a race to be injured was soon to follow. Shortly before the ladies' downhill on Saturday, blonde Karen Budge from Jackson Hole, Wyoming was testing wax. Karen, America's best girl in downhill, had just enough time to test on a nearby giant slalom course and then rewax. But as she was running the test a member of the Moroccan men's team, Said Housni, who had been warned once before to stay off the hill, zipped by from nowhere, slamming into Karen. Result: a dislocated shoulder for Budge and a bruise for the crazy Moroccan, which was less punishment than Bob Beattie would have laid on at the moment.
In the face of continuous adversity, Beattie remained remarkably restrained and used psychology. He skirted the subjects of ill fortune, myth and voodoo when in the company of his dwindling troops. He spoke only of tomorrow's job. And he pointed out that this was not a freak Olympics, that the best racers were winning. Jean-Claude Killy had taken a downhill event that was practically tailored for him, and Austria's Olga Pall, a slender, beautiful girl, had churned to the ladies' downhill victory that she indeed deserved on the basis of the winter's prior results, Isabelle Mir of France finishing second, Austria's Christl Haas third.
"Our best events are ahead of us," lectured Beattie.