Franz Klammer - The Ski Kaiser of Austria
Franz Klammer, one of skiing's greatest, is lauded in a new 5.5 million Euro film, Chasing the Line—a tension-fuelled celebration of his triumph at the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics.
Klammer, On Course
Each sport has its icon—skiing has The Kaiser (the emperor). In a long glittering career throughout the 1970s and '80s, Austria's Franz Klammer totalled 25 Downhill wins and five World Cup Downhill titles. No ski event is bathed in such glamour and mortal danger as the Downhill. Jumps up to 80 metres. Gradients of 85 percent. Speeds averaging over 100 km/h (62,14 mi/h). It's Hollywood, Formula 1, and the circus all in one.
Known for his wild and aggressive style, the line for the young Austrian farm boy was as thin as it was dangerous. On that day in February 1976, when he pulled bib number 15 over his trademark yellow catsuit at the top of the Olympic Patscherkofel course, the cowbells and the cheers were deafening.
“I always had this feeling in the starting gate, I knew I would do it,” Klammer explained. “I was full of confidence and knew I could pull it off. Just concentrate on your race, you, and the mountain, not thinking about anybody else.”
But no one becomes a hero overnight.
Hard Work, Cows, and Determination
In the tiny Austrian village of Mooswald, Carinthia (about 20 min away from Villach), growing up amongst fewer than a dozen neighbour houses meant livestock outnumbered people. Cows were milked by hand, and there were no chairlifts for young Franzi. The Kaiser's first turns were earned the hard way, hiking up the pasture behind his house to ski down in leather boots and wooden skis. He left school at 14, worked summers on the family farm and ski raced in the winter. But even as he began ascending the podiums, beginning with his first medal in 1973, the Alpine icon of charm never lost his passion for skiing or for the mountains he grew up in.
For the Love of Skiing
Klammer soon earned his reputation for risky lines and being in near-constant recovery mode. “Speed is freedom. Downhill racing is freedom,” Franz said. His life-long passion for skiing made him happy—and that happiness was contagious.
At his Olympic debut Klammer had the eyes of 60,000 spectators, the whole of Austria and the world on him. Fellow competitor Bernhard Russi described it: “The whole mountain was shaking when Franz came down”.
“I new I had to risk everything, then halfway down,” he recalled, “I was looking at the crowd and wanted to do something for them.” So, he changed his line completely, risked it all, and crossed the line for gold.
Taking Care of Those in Need
In 1977, after his third straight Hahnenkamm win, Klammer's family life was changed forever. During a junior race, his 16-year-old brother Klaus suffered a terrible crash and was paralysed from the waist down. After working diligently to help with his brother's recovery, the Franz Klammer Foundation was established to aid other seriously injured athletes. Over decades, Franz and his Foundation have helped many athletes on their journey of recovery.
I always had this feeling in the starting gate, I knew I would do it. I was full of confidence and knew I could pull it off. Just concentrate on your race, you, and the mountain, not thinking about anybody else.