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Whatever her decision about 1976, the dashing Proell is not easy to figure. She is a mad and exuberant car driver, such a fervent admirer of Jackie Stewart and the late Jochen Rindt that she has glued their photographs to one of her racing helmets. On the same precipitous roads where she once skidded along on skis hand-whittled by her father, she now careens along at speeds over 100 mph in her hopped-up black and gold Ford Capri.
For a long time Proell had a metal plaque fastened to the Capri's dashboard stamped with the words NEVER FORGET SAPPORO. She has not forgotten. Last week in Naeba, Japan the World Cup ski racing season was moving toward its end. In the midst of a bewildering month-long rush of marathon plane flights and time-zone changes that threw them over some 20,000 miles in four weeks, tired young racers were trying to remember where they were and whether it was the hour for dinner or for dawn. "Concentration toward the end of the racing season is difficult," Annemarie sighed. Then, with a pout of boredom, she added: "In fact, I don't like to travel." On the slalom course she traveled about as expected—in typical full attack she missed a gate halfway down the second run. And while one of the polite Japanese spectators murmured, "She skis just like a man," the irritated champ swung one ski pole and whacked the offending gate. In the giant slalom she concentrated just enough to finish third behind a surprising victory by Vermont's Marilyn Cochran. So much for winning margins: Annemarie's World Cup points in Japan put her year's total out of sight. After Naeba there was but one race left, in Heavenly Valley, Calif.
Proell now has a lifetime record that no one has ever approached. She has won 27 World Cup races in her career. The next best is Killy, who won 18.
Except for Proell, the 1973 World Cup season might have been remembered only for the lackluster quality of its field and the anonymity of its competitors. It is true that the No. 1 male skier was, once more, Gustav Th�ni, the bland and well-scrubbed young Italian slalom expert. A gentle and mild fellow, though a polished racer. Th�ni held a "modest lead for the combined World Cup trophy during the final weeks of the season. He did nothing in Alaska or Japan to advance his cause. If he does manage to top the field by performing well on the hills of Heavenly Valley, it will be his third consecutive year as overall World Cup champion.
Yet his triumph would contain none of the dynamics, none of the brilliant superiority displayed by Proell. This is the year that the French men's team was rattled by a dispute between racers and coaches, a personality clash that temporarily sent such perennial high rollers as Henri Duvillard, Jean-No�l Augert and Roger Rossat-Mignod to the showers in February. Since that mutiny, there has been little behind Th�ni but a rush of faceless Austrians, the David Zwillings, Hansi Hinterseers, Franz Klammers.
On their performances, plus those of Proell and her women teammates—Monika Kaserer, Ingrid Gfoelner, Wiltrud Drexel and Irmgard Lukasser—the Austrians have moved easily into first place in the Nation's Cup competition. In truth, the Austrian team—under the patient leadership of the famed Toni Sailer himself, winner of three gold medals in the 1956 Olympic Games—was well in the lead long before the French destroyed themselves.
By contrast, the U.S. team was struggling through one of its worst seasons. Both chief coaches, Hank Tauber and Willy Schaeffler, were unceremoniously released by the U.S. Ski Association and, as the year waffled to an end, the new U.S. coach turned out to be Gordon (Mickey) Cochran, the electrical engineer who taught his children for years in their backyard before they became the bulwark of the American team.
Though it is far off, one may well expect that the Games of '76 in Innsbruck will be an Austrian hometown show, one that will rival Killy's triple-gold showing at Grenoble. By then, there may well be gold in them thar Zwillings, Hinterseers and Klammers. And surely there ought to be gold in Proell. She won't forget Sapporo.