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Franz Klammer's Historic 1976 Olympic Performance

Franz Klammer's Historic 1976 Olympic Performance

Not every great performance in Olympic history is marked by winning multiple medals. In fact, some of the greatest performances to live on in time deal with only a single gold medal, in true underdog fashion, as it is with Austrian ski racer Franz Klammer.

His historic performance in the 1976 Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria not only propelled him to the level of hometown hero, but also an international hero. Klammer's legacy certainly involves more than that one single medal, and even more than skiing, but during one performance in 1976, he forever changed the way the world viewed athletes.

Franz Klammer

Born in Mooswald, Austria on December 3, 1953, Franz Klammer is a former alpine ski racer who was a champion on multiple levels. For four straight seasons, Klammer completely decimated the competition, and from 1975 until '78, only one time was he ever thought to be outmatched. Yet, digging down deep and pulling up a championship performance, even then did Klammer refuse to finish second best.

Long before Klammer's dominating run as a downhill skier, he started out like many Austrian's do – as a simple farm boy in the countryside of Austria. Although he enjoyed skiing, he wasn't particularly great at it in his early days. He struggled to make the national team and wouldn't become a regular fixture on the scene until he began dominating Salzburg and Tyrol.

Klammer's Improbable Downhill Win

The reason why Klammer's 1976 Olympic Games win is considered improbable isn't due to any underdog status from the onset. In fact, Klammer was favored to win by the majority of experts in the field. This was due to his impressive run in the World Cup standings a year previous. Competing in 9 downhill races, Klammer dominated the field by winning 8 of them. He was considered the best downhill skier in Austria, and one of the best the world had ever seen. Though, like many athletes find out, the Olympics are a different playing field entirely.

One thing that was different for Klammer going into the Olympic Games in his home country was the immense amount of pressure on his shoulders. He was expected to win by the world at large, and he was already prompted as a national hero in Austria before the qualifying rounds had begun. What made Klammer's win so incredibly historic is that he won in come-from-behind fashion, with not much race to go.

Before Klammer put his skis on and hit the slopes, he had to watch as defending champion and fellow countryman Bernhard Russi blazed down the hill in a time of 1:46.06. This fast time put even more pressure on Klammer's shoulders. Klammer, starting in 15th position, was actually off of Russi's pace with 1,000 meters to go in the race. 99 times out of 100, this is a surefire loss for the racer behind on the clock. However, Klammer went to an entirely new level of performance and started making up time quickly and effectively. Over the last 1,000 meters, Klammer covered ground more quickly than any skier in history.

It was what many considered to be the perfect run. Klammer skied on the absolute edge, where one faulty move would have thrown him into a violent crash. Though throughout the blazing speeds, Klammer never even came close to losing control. It was a brilliant, fast, seamless performance, and Klammer ended up winning the Olympic Gold Medal with a time just milliseconds better than Russi's. Bernhard rushed up to Klammer and gave him a hug, making it a very touching moment for Austria and for Olympic history.

The Olympic Games marked the end of Klammer's dominance in the sport. He wouldn't win another World Championship title or Olympic medal beyond that year. However, his name will live on in history not only for winning the medal, but for doing so in such impressive fashion with such an improbable run.

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