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Another question mark about Werner has been the condition of his right leg, which he broke while preparing for the Olympics a year ago, thus forfeiting an odds-on chance for anywhere from one to three gold medals. Werner was skiing a practice slalom at Aspen when the tip of one ski crossed the other. As he fell he heard a loud pop and he recalls thinking rather casually, "Oh, hell, I broke my leg." Then he felt the pain.
The bone below his right knee had twisted and shredded apart. It was an ugly break to repair, and had to be set twice before it was perfect. Five screws were inserted into the bone to keep it in place. When the screws were finally removed not long ago, Buddy took them home in a bottle, a souvenir of disaster.
During the summer he took long hikes through the mountains to strengthen his leg. He also got a job with a power-line company near his home, climbing telephone poles. When the fall term began, his leg was strong again, although he still feels an occasional ache after a workout.
If Werner uses any caution at all, the leg should hold up. But Buddy has never been a cautious skier. In fact, he is regarded as a daredevil, and though his daring has made him the only American ever to win a major European ski title, it has also cost him a number of major championships that a more cautious skier might have won. When he broke his leg, Austria's top skiers, Anderl Molterer and Karl Schranz, said, "The trouble with Buddy is that he risks too much. If we were to take all the chances he takes, we'd probably be five seconds faster. But taking all the chances is not the best way to ski in a race."
Werner himself concedes he takes a lot of chances, but says that because he has generally been America's lone contender in Europe his spills have been more noticeable. In most meets it was Werner against dozens of Austrians, Germans, French and Swiss. When one of them fell, there were always others. When Werner fell, America fell, too.
Werner thinks things will be easier skiing in college. "Chances won't need to be taken," he says. "At least, not as many. In Europe the top five skiers in a meet are likely to be the top five skiers in the world. That won't be a problem in college skiing."
Assuming that he can overcome his fame, his bad leg and his tendency to take spectacular spills, Buddy faces yet another challenge. In college ski meets a team's final score is figured by the point totals accumulated in four events: slalom, downhill, jumping and cross-country. Beattie hopes that Werner will be able to score in all four. This is a little like asking Herb Elliott to run the mile and half mile, then go out and throw the javelin and put the shot. The slalom and downhill are Werner's money events. Against college competition he will win both in almost every meet. But Werner hasn't jumped since he left high school, and he has almost never tried cross-country. Still, there is the possibility that in any given meet he could win three events and, before he is through, perhaps even four.
"I'm certain he'll be able to jump," says Beattie. "He was good at that when he was a kid. As for cross-country, right now he doesn't look good. But I'd hate to bet against him. Anybody with his talent and his desire to win can't be ruled out."