The Olympics are still more than three years away, but there were chills and thrills anyway earlier this week when Franz Klammer came to Salt Lake's organizing headquarters on Second South and asked for some pointers.
You shoulda been there to see Klammer arrive. He rounded the corner on the edge of control. For a split second it looked like he might fly completely off course. Then it looked like there was no way he could stay upright . . . Oh, sorry, I'm getting my Olympic moments mixed up.On the edge of disaster is how Klammer first introduced himself to the Olympics 22 years ago, at the Innsbruck Games of 1976, stopping hearts all over his native Austria as he plummeted down the venerable Patscherkofel downhill course, straddling that razor-thin border between calamity and immortality the whole improbable, unforgettable way.
In Olympic Winter Games lore, some people might opt for the day Sonja Henie took the ice in Garmisch, or the final seconds of the USA ice hockey victory over the Soviets, or Eric Heiden's five speedskating gold medals, or Dan Jansen's last-second heroics in Lillehammer, or Jean-Claude Killy's triple gold. But I'll take Klammer's breakneck race into history.
He was the last contender out of the gate, this farmer's son from the far side of the Austrian Alps, and he had to make up more than half a second on Switzerland's Bernhard Russi, the defending Olympic champion. All of Austria was pulling for Klammer as he proceeded to make a hard one look really hard. The entire second half of the race, every ambulance in Innsbruck was already headed to the mountain. When Klammer finally finished upright, a full third of a second faster than Russi, you could hear the collective exhale as far away as Zurich.
Klammer was right here, in Olympic City, because in his Olympic afterlife he has become the No. 1 ambassador-at-large for a Winter Games bid effort by Klagenfurt, an Austrian city in the southeastern Alps not far from where Klam-mer was born and raised.
Klagenfurt's bid to take the baton from Salt Lake for the 2006 Winter Games is unique in that it involves the corners of three countries - Austria, Italy and Slovenia. It is called "The Bid Beyond Borders" and will feature, among other things, a women's downhill race that will start in Slovenia, cut through Italy and wind up in Austria. Sort of like a legal drug run.
As Klammer said while relaxing in the SLOC offices, "70 years ago, these three countries were still at war. Now, we're making peace."
His reason for coming to Salt Lake? "To find out what it takes to get the Games," naturally.
"I think Salt Lake is a perfect place for the Olympic Games," said Klammer, "I'm here to learn from your experience."
So think of that, Franz Klammer coming to Utah, hat in hand, to get coaching on how to run the bidding course.
And what did Salt Lake's successful veterans of the bidding wars tell him?
"They said recognize our assets," said Klammer. "Look at what is unique to us and then play to our strengths.
"That's good advice, I think."
Klammer, who was nicknamed "Killy" as a junior racer after the great Jean-Claude Killy, winner of those three gold ski racing medals at Grenoble, France, in 1968, hopes to continue to follow in Killy's tracks. For it was Killy who went on to help his home area of the Alps, in and around Albertville, secure the Winter Games of 1992.
Klammer is quickly getting educated as to the need for patience when it comes to bidding for the Games. While here, he learned that Salt Lake was actually one of the bid cities that lost out more than two decades ago to Innsbruck for those 1976 Winter Games, starring him.
"That was good for me," said the Austrian.
As it's turned out, good for us too.