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In retrospect, it seemed inevitable that Jean-Claude Killy would ski away with three gold medals from the 1968 Winter Olympics; and indisputable that if the final Alpine event, the men's slalom, had been run through the fog of White-chapel, against Jack the Ripper, Jack would have missed two doorways to be disqualified. As the race actually was run in the souped-over village of Chamrousse, a couple of other skiers had to be noisily eliminated by the officials before Killy could sort of sideslip into his third victory of the Games and thus into a gilded niche in the history of the world's most confused sport.
But after he got his first two golds of the Grenoble fun festival, one in the windiest downhill since Hillary's descent from Everest and the other in the two runs of giant slalom conducted through another thick fog, the big question in everyone's mind was whether the Frenchman could score that historic triple. For certain, because of changes in the rules, it would be a far better triple than Austria's Toni Sailer got in 1956.
For example, Sailer came out of the starting gate only four times at Cortina—once in downhill, once in giant slalom and twice in slalom. Already Killy had made three runs, and it appeared early in the week that he would have to make four more in order to take the slalom: one to qualify, one to gain the top-seeding group and two on the day of the race itself.
Killy was not delighted at these prospects. He said, "It is ridiculous that I am obliged to beat British and Lebanese racers in order to make the finals."
Jean-Claude did condescend to make the first qualifying run on Wednesday. And he posted the fastest time of all the 102 racers. Now he had left the starting gate four times—as often as Sailer 12 years ago—but still he had only two medals instead of three. Now he was also going to lead a revolt.
On Friday the seeding race was scheduled for the 56 men who had qualified on Wednesday, but Chamrousse's favorite weather—Oxford gray smudge—caused it to be canceled, and the most talented skiers, led by Killy, went into the loftiest group, where their season's records should have put them in the first place.
Everything was thus primed for Saturday's stupendous happening, perhaps the most exciting day in the history of Alpine racing, the day Killy would go after his third gold medal against the Karl Schranzes, Guy P�rillats and Billy Kidds of the world, hopefully before thousands strewn down the hill and millions watching television. Well, everything was primed but the weather, of course, and the race officials. When it comes to being baffled, no group can equal an assemblage of ski-race officials, whether you find them in an Olympics or in Red River, N. Mex.
The fog had choked Chamrousse. At the finish line, if you leaned over a little and adjusted your binoculars, you could see your feet. Up on top, the racers pleaded that they could see no more than two gates ahead. Off to the side a frantically milling collection of TV executives, including ABC's Roone Arledge, were ranting that 300 million viewers around the globe were going to see a slalom, the most important ever run, that would look like a test pattern. The race could simply not be held, everybody thought, if for no other reason than the fact that Arledge, who had spent $4 million to televise the Games, would go grab all of the slalom poles.
Oh, but it could. Officials of the French government and the city of Grenoble, who had combined to finance the Olympics and who no doubt were disturbed throughout by an obvious absence of spectators at practically every event, were not about to blow their biggest payday of all—the 90-meter jump on Sunday. A postponement of the slalom would have forced a conflict.
So the funniest ski race of all time was staged. Dimly, you could see the racers cross the finish line, one by one, trailed by ominous, uncertain applause. They seemed to be creeping down, a convoy of lost souls. As America's Rick Chaffee put it, "I made every gate I could find."