When France's Jean Vuarnet flashed across the finish
line at the bottom of Squaw Peak to win the men's downhill, the word was soon
out: Vuarnet had a secret weapon, a new metal ski. But he had another
sp�cialit�, less obvious but not less important, which helped him get his gold
medal. It was a streamlined crouch which Jean calls his profile d'un oeuf (egg
position), because of the shape his upper body assumes as he hunkers down over
his skis. Vuarnet's crouch, good in any downhill race, was perfect for the
Squaw Valley course, which has a long, flat run-out near the bottom where the
other racers had trouble maintaining their speed and where Vuarnet saved the .6
second that gave him the victory: "To go fast on the hill is nothing. You
make your time on the flat; and there my speed position was best."
Common mistakes by other racers are imitated above by
Vuarnet. Skier at left has head in good position; but stiff knees force his
rear end too high. Skier at right raises his head too far, so that helmet pokes
up above perfect circle, thus increasing air resistance. Long-legged racers
have most trouble curling into the correct position, Vuarnet explains. "But
it is really easy for me. I am quite short in the legs and longer above the
American mistake is holding feet too close together.
This cuts down on speed by tipping skis onto outside edges, also tends to cramp
thighs so skier has less spring going over bumps.
Head-On view shows Vuarnet's head, shoulders, arms,
hands curled into tight circle. "Legs are spread for comfort and to let the
air through. The skis must lie flat upon the snow, both for speed and for
Egg position puts upper part of the body in shape of
streamlined shell to lessen wind resistance during 75-mph plunge down mountain.
"For this position," says Vuarnet, "the back must be parallel with
the skis, the head tucked well down on the chest, the hands held high and in
front of the chin. Do not lower the hands, or they will scoop air over the
forearms and into the chest."
Crucial moment in downhill came where course crossed
two large bumps called Double Trouble, then plunged down steep pitch beyond.
Here, many racers straightened up or tried to jump over the bumps.
"But," said Vuarnet, "I calculated that my speed would carry me
over both bumps without my having to move a muscle." Vuarnet was right.
Holding his speed position, he shot over the bumps, leaning forward slightly as
he landed to compensate for the steep pitch beyond.