SI Vault
Bob Ottum
February 26, 1968
Seasoned Olympic performers like America's Terry McDermott and Italy's Eugenio Monti excelled in the Winter Games' closing days as the once-mighty Russians fizzled and the French and Austrians sizzled
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February 26, 1968

In Sped The Ancients

Seasoned Olympic performers like America's Terry McDermott and Italy's Eugenio Monti excelled in the Winter Games' closing days as the once-mighty Russians fizzled and the French and Austrians sizzled

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Once the thing gets loose and starts lurching across the snow, a monster like the Winter Olympics is hard to stop. The whole contraption has grown so big, with so many pocket dramas being played across far mountain tops and valleys, that two wild weeks of it may not be enough. When the Xth Winter Games ended in France last Sunday there was an unfinished, to-be-continued feeling in the air.

France and Austria were locked in a slalom controversy that may not be settled to Austria's satisfaction in a hundred years, even though it was quite possible to determine the facts (page 17). There was a mini-scandal in luge. There was this used bobsled run up in Alpe d'Huez that one could buy pretty cheap, especially by just promising to break it up and take it away. Finally, if anyone was looking for a new generation of heroes, they are yet to come; at Grenoble they were as scarce as Americans who stayed on their feet.

But certain signs were there for all to see, to grasp and cling to. Such as: the Russians ain't what they used to be in winter sports. In 1964 they had won 25 medals of various colors—11 gold, eight silver and six bronze. At Grenoble they took only 13, including five gold. And: little old Norway, despite some disappointments, was doing just fine, thank you—topping all other countries in medals won, with 14. Also: comely blonde Swedes can find happiness after 30.

Consider the creaky oldtimers. One ancient gentleman of 40 took the two bobsledding gold medals, and another man came out of retirement at 27 and speed-skated to a silver medal. And a lithe, 30-year-old Swedish cross-country skier, maybe the only woman in all the world who looks great in knickers, accomplished such wonders as winning two gold medals and a silver and knitting a new white sweater for her daughter in one busy week.

The medicare hero of the Games was Italy's Eugenio Monti, who has had spills without number and fractures beyond counting, but until this month no Olympic gold. "I was going to quit," he said. "The only reason I came back into competition two years ago was to get the thing I wanted most, an Olympic gold medal. Now I can stop. At 40 it is too old for the bob."

But quitting was taking a long time. Once he got his gold medal in the two-man event—Monti and partner Luciano de Paolis beating out West Germany—Eugenio was pressed into service as pilot of the Italian four-man sled. And in the biting cold of last Saturday morning he did it again.

That extra gold medal was Monti's bonus reward for hard and painful homework. Last year in the pre-Olympic meet he crashed heavily and came around the last curve on his helmet, with the sled riding him. This time Monti studied the course as no other bobber did, his blue eyes glinting from a face rebuilt by plastic surgery. Instead of riding to the top in a truck with his teammates after practice runs, he elected to walk back up alongside the track. He memorized all the curves and bumps, becoming a familiar figure in his scraped old lucky blue parka and red knit cap.

Just as a year ago, an aura of misfortune seemed to hang over the run. First, snow filled it up in spots. Then fog blotted it out. Then the sun softened it. None of the sledders had had enough practice, even though they were being tugged out of bed at 4:15 a.m. "It is not very well," said Monti softly one day. "I will be glad when it is over."

While the bobsledders were nail-gnawing their way through postponements and 5 a.m. competition, Sweden's Toini Gustafsson was staging a show all her own down inside cold Autrans Valley, 60 road miles away, wearing a red cap over her blonde curls.

True, her opponents on the favored Soviet women's Nordic team were all new. They were not the ones who had conquered in the last world championships—something about those sex tests, it was said. Still, any woman who will admit she is 30 when the Olympic record book says she is only 29 has got to be fairly confident. In the 10-kilometer run Toini kicked her narrow skis to her first gold medal, not exactly to the roaring cheers of thousands, since Nordic spectating takes about as much courage as participating. And while the Russians were analyzing that one, she clobbered them at five kilometers. Thus she became the first Swedish woman ever to win two gold medals at a Winter Olympics. By taking a silver in the cross-country relay, she became the most bemedaled individual performer, after Killy, of the Games. "I am also a good cook," she said.

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