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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Up in the gusty mountains above Grenoble it was believed that stubborn old Avery Brundage, who has this hangup about amateurism, would stand at the finish line of the Alpine events in the Winter Olympics with his legs planted and his arms outstretched, and that Jean-Claude Killy and the others would have to plunge through him—blazer, patch, pin, ideals and all—to get a medal of any kind unless their skis were painted, oh, polka-dot purple and pink, with no trademarks visible. Ski racers are pros, suggested Brundage, because the manufacturers pay them to let the world know what boards they are sliding on. Not that anyone would discover it in Grenoble. Fog continually moving in and out obscured everything: skis, skiers and the spectator next to you. Then, suddenly, another problem arose for Killy, the glamour personality of these Games. Could he race well over the scattered bones of the U.S. team? American boy parts and girl parts were being spread across the slopes like Bela Lugosi's favorite buffet. Talking to an American racer almost any time meant bending down and peeking in the snow. Finally, however, out of all of this agony and frustration, down roared Jean-Claude Killy to capture the biggest, most dangerous event of them all, the men's downhill, to add another gold medal in giant slalom and to transplant himself forever into the throbbing heart of France.
Although it was beginning to look like the overall spectacle might have to be renamed X�mes Jeux Olympiques de Killy, it was impossible for Jean-Claude or any of the medal winners to display lavish joy because of the clack about commercialism. For example, Killy leaped at an opportunity to put the Olympics down by saying, "I raced well because this was a World Cup event." Actually he said Evian World Cup, throwing in the name of the co-sponsor, Evian, which sells bottled water and has helped to organize the World Cup ski circuit, whose races provide an orderly way of keeping up with skiing's leading, uh, money-winners.
Brundage, of course, is correct in saying that European ski racers often struggle toward a camera bearing as many trademarks as an Indianapolis race car, and only the most naive individual would expect them to do this out of pure friendship for hard-working factory employees. What the skiers argue is that Brundage is putting all of the heat on the skis. What about the bindings? What about the boots? What about a Russian ice-hockey team that has been playing together, living together and no doubt getting paid together for six years?
"The Olympic is hypocrite," said Killy.
So it was that when Jean-Claude reached the finish of the downhill race on Friday he did exactly as the officials demanded he do. He gently stepped out of his skis while a couple of gendarmes stood by, and then he was allowed to move in front of the cameras. But, aha, what happened then was that his best friend, Michel Arpin, who also happens to be his racing service man, stepped into focus with his skis upright between himself and Killy, almost as if they were Killy's equipment. It was hi there, Avery Brundage, guess who won on Dynamics?
Meanwhile, silver medalist Guy P�rillat, who lost by only the blink of an eye, and bronze medalist Jean-Daniel Daetwyler of Switzerland were not quite so fortunate. All of the attention was on Killy, naturally. P�rillat shrugged and said, "Oh, well, it is not so important. The pictures with the skis can be taken later."
For the Olympic record books, however, let it be noted that Killy won his two gold medals on French-made Dynamic skis, and in Nevada bindings and Le Trappeur boots; that P�rillat used Dynastar skis, Nevada bindings and Heschung boots; and that Daetwyler was on Rossignol skis, in Nevada bindings and Lange boots. There. It is done.
No one had to wonder what the Americans were wearing. It was Ace bandages and plaster casts. In succession, the Americans who crashed either in training or in races and were either physically or mentally twisted by the experience were Dennis McCoy, Wendy Allen, Robin Morning, Billy Kidd, Spider Sabich, Jere Elliott, Jim Barrows and Karen Budge, a total of eight—eight out of 14—with a late report just filtering down the mountain that Kiki Cutter might have fallen into measles. They went through fences, banged their heads on slalom poles, spiraled through the air like tornado wreckage, and, in the case of poor Karen Budge, got blindsided by a foolish Moroccan.
The American tragedy began with Dennis McCoy in downhill training. He caught an edge and took down a fence and came up looking as if his face had been clawed by an angry housewife, something that damaged his confidence even more than the fall.
Then, on another day during training, Wendy Allen barreled into a cluster of slalom poles and put a slice in her pretty forehead, six stitches worth, and it is yet to be decided how this might affect her. But there was no question about Robin Morning on the same day. Going from the chairlift to the start of the ladies' downhill, a mere pleasure ski, Robin fell and didn't get up. It wasn't a tough fall, only the sort we all take. But Robin's right leg was broken and she was out of the Olympics before they started.