The bobsledder is a rare breed found only in certain frigid mountain pockets. Except when the Winter Olympics come around, he is seldom seen or heard from. His triumphs usually go unsung; his grandest moments are seldom trumpeted. It is usually only some little mistake that he makes while traveling 50 miles an hour on glare ice that finally earns him an obituary notice.
Though the sport of bobbing has never been well known or appreciated, it has always shone with an international luster. Prinz Wilhelm of imperial Germany was a bobber (until his father made him give it up), and so was Baron Edward Alexander von Falz-Fein of Liechtenstein (until his wife made him quit). On more recent lists of bobbers one finds Lord Suffolk of England, the Marquis de Portago of Spain, Baron Jonny de Crawhez of Belgium, and Airman Third Class Smoky Williams of Scotland Neck, North Carolina.
It has for the most part been persons of title or rank who have brought the sport what little publicity it has had, although in actual fact, since its birth some 70 years ago, bobbing has attracted not "only the idle rich and the noble poor but also all manner of other men: bustlers and dreamers, soldiers and civil servants, insurance adjusters and funeral directors, butchers and doctors, executives and clerks.
The best bobber of them all beyond any point of argument is a 36-year-old Italian, Eugenio Monti, of the town of Cortina in the valley of Ampezzo. Monti is a small, obdurate chip off the old Dolomites. His countrymen call him a montanaro, a mountain man—which means that he is only slightly more outgoing than a chamois and about as hard to track down. The old Appalachian highlanders and the New England whaling men could have understood his ways. He speaks only when he has some point to make, and when he does have a point to make he drives it home with the skill of a Nantucket harpooner.
Eugenio Monti likes the freedom of big mountains; he likes the growling, grumbling speed of a bobsled on slick ice and the singing speed of skis on steep, hard-packed slopes. When asked recently by a visitor how he likes his small town of Cortina now that its streets and slopes are clogged every winter with tourists, Monti simply replied: "They drive too slow. They ski too slow. But they spend money fast."
In 1956, when the Winter Olympic Games were held in Cortina, Eugenio Monti won two silver medals. He piloted a two-man bobsled, like the one he is pushing to a running start at left, to second place behind his teammate, Lamberto Dalla Costa, and a four-man sled to second place behind the Swiss mechanic, Franz Kapus. Although he had never been in a sled before 1954, since the Cortina Games Monti has never been beaten in world competition in a two-man sled. He has won six world titles in that event and two more in the four-man event. In bobsledding the winner is determined on the basis of aggregate time for four runs down a slick, curvy course that, depending on the one used, varies in length from 1,500 meters to slightly more than a mile. According to the length of the course and its condition, the total time for four runs is somewhere between 4� and 5� minutes, and the difference between winner and runner-up is often less than [1/5] of a second. Considering that a single misjudgment can thrust a front-running team hopelessly back into the ruck, Monti's domination of the sport for nearly a decade is remarkable. It is all the more so considering that he is a bobsledder not by choice but by mischance.
Monti was born, people say, with a taste for speed. As the child of a valley guarded by the steep flanks of the Dolomites, he sought speed, logically enough, on the ski slopes, where the downhill and slalom events offered entrancing diversity not possible in bobsledding. As a 23-year-old, in the downhill event in 1951 he already was abreast of the Italian veteran skier, Zeno Colo, who won the gold medal in the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo. Recklessly rocketing off a hummock onto bare ground in a minor competition, Monti crashed, tearing the ligaments of both knees beyond total repair. He tried sports cars for a while, driving an Osca in a few minor battles, but gave it up as costing more than it was worth. He settled upon bobsledding as a decently fast career where a hobbled man would need the full, free flexion of his knees perhaps only to say a short prayer before each run.
Monti comes from fairly humble stock, but if his family ever gets the urge to climb, to lift the name of Monti, as it were, to the lordly level of bobbers of yore, a coat of arms of the House of Monti would be easy to devise. In one quadrant of the Monti heraldic shield there should be snowflakes rampant—a symbol with a conflicting, dual meaning. Monti is currently coproprietor of a �-mile ski lift and thus quite literally earns his living from the heavensent drifts. But the motto enscrolled under the Monti coat of arms should read, "Ghiaccio, non neve" (ice, not snow), for like most good modern bobbers, Monti loves a course of slick ice and hates the pretty little snowflakes with a constant, and sometimes active, passion. Snow slows up the track.
It is true that the order of start for each of the four runs in a competition is juggled so that the driver who has the disadvantage of going down a snowy track first gets a faster track the next time around. This perhaps makes the contest fair for ordinary drivers who steer fairly similar courses, but it cheats the genuinely competent driver out of the full use of his talents. Monti is a champion, a constant winner, primarily because he drives a different course, a better course, riding the curves high, reaching a precise apogee; then diving downward again, stealing a precious hundredth of a second more from each curve than his lesser rivals can.
Monti is not a daredevil. He has overturned only once, smashing his nose and scarring his face. He has won his world titles on all the five classic courses in the world. He has won at the beautiful track in St. Moritz and has wrung the ultimate in speed from the Zig Zag curve at Lake Placid, where Frank Beattie was thrown 100 feet to his death in 1955. He has won time and again through the Crystal curve in Cortina, where Jet Pilot Luciano Mozzolo was killed in 1957, and in Garmisch, where three have been killed. He won last year—and will be competing again next week in the Olympics—in Innsbruck, where Gunnar Ahs of Sweden broke both legs and sheared off his front teeth and Claude Brasseur of France left a bloody streak three inches wide and 50 feet long. The fact that on ice death sometimes comes on short notice interests Monti not at all. He likes the ice because it is a fair test, the victory earned on it an honest one.