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It was true—up to a point. After the Aspen races, the tour moved to Vail, Colo. for another two-day program. Though he was still plainly not at the peak of his form, Killy performed with such dash and skill that he finished an impressive second to the powerful Stuefer in the giant slalom. The next day he advanced as far as the runoff for third place in the slalom before he fell. For the weekend, Killy collected $2,500 and the following day he left for the familiar hillsides of Val d'Is�re to train until the next ISRA race in Vermont Jan. 6.
But why was a rich and classy chap like Jean-Claude Killy doing all this anyway? For two weekends of hard work he had a relatively small fistful of $3,225 to show. He had been at least symbolically insulted and had certainly risked tarnishing his gold-plated image by putting himself in a position to lose to some tough but faceless men with unknown names like Stuefer and Hamre and Lassen-Urdahl.
There are answers. Perhaps the first is the fact that the money Killy won in Colorado did not in any way represent the true cash value of his performances. He is represented by that supermerchandiser, Mark McCormack, an entrepreneur whose reverence for the endorsement dollar is surpassed by no living mortal. McCormack has managed Killy's life as a combined commercial hero and living gold-medal advertising image for products ranging from automobiles to sweaters. Yet in the last year or so, Killy's salability had diminished. But now that his man is racing again, says McCormack, "it will rejuvenate him with equipment sponsors. It was always inevitable that he would race again."
The moment Killy announced his return, McCormack's agents asked sponsors for $15,000 per weekend to guarantee his appearance, an impressive sum since the entire treasury available to the field of racers is $20,000 per weekend. The agents always asked for the full $15,000, whether they got it or not. But appearance money will be minimal compared with the bigger jackpot Killy will now draw in fresh endorsements.
The money is there: pro racing has become a robust and rather rich enterprise. Under the energetic promotions of Bob Beattie, former U.S. ski coach and sometime breathless TV sports commentator, the tour was thriving even without the magic name of Killy. Benson & Hedges put up $110,000 to underwrite the 1972-73 season and Beattie peddled individual races to a mixed bag of sponsors ranging from Faberge cosmetics and Samsonite luggage to United Air Lines and McDonald's hamburgers.
There are gimmicks galore, and raggedy and anonymous as Beattie's pro ski racers may seem to the general public, they are by no means impoverished. Though one must discount at least a little of what Beattie says for reasons of raw enthusiasm, he did estimate that with race sponsor's prize money plus the cash from equipment manufacturers (up to $30,000 per season for a ski endorsement alone) there will be more than $1.5 million available to his racers this year.
Indeed, this may be the first time in history that professional ski racers can actually make more money than World Cup amateurs. One who knows all about that is Killy: "In 1965, when I was the best amateur in Europe, I was making $12,000 a year. No racer made any more. Now the best World Cup skier can make close to $100,000 a year—I was paid about half that in the year of the Grenoble Olympics."
Now, with Killy and Alain Penz, Malcolm Milne and Spider Sabich, there are as many star-quality names on the pro circuit as in the World Cup. Only two are missing. Ex-Olympian Billy Kidd has retired and Karl Schranz of Austria, the glowering, temperamental old champ, has pretty much retired to his pension in St. Anton since he was drummed out of Sapporo as the scapegoat-martyr of the 1972 Winter Games. But there are those who hope to lure Schranz to the ISRA. "We could really use him," says Killy. "Karli should come back. He could win, I'm sure. And more important, we need a villain on the tour to build up interest. Karli could be our man in the black hat."
Whether or not Schranz returns (and it is doubtful that he will), the man in pro racing's white hat will certainly be Jean-Claude Killy. For even though money is an object—an important one—in his decision to race again, Killy also is a proud and sensitive man and there were motives more noble than profit behind his return. He said, "I do not live only to make money and all of my decisions are not made because of dollars or francs. It is true, too, that I want to give something back to the sport that has given me everything I have. But I do not think I would have raced again if it had been left to me alone. My fianc�e, Dani�le, and my old friend, Michel Arpin, coaxed me and urged me. 'Jean-Claude,' they said, 'you must do something positive. You are tired of playing golf and silting around Geneva.' They argued with me to race again. I was very much against it. Dani�le said maybe I was getting old too soon.
"Well, maybe she was right, I thought. I knew there were risks in going back to racing, but I was really missing competition in my life. I needed a challenge. I decided that the important thing was to be happy and I decided that if I raced at least I would have three or four more years of good fun. As for my commercial image, I decided that my clients would rather see me on a mountain than in a department store in Detroit."