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>>> February 24, 2002 >>> Day 16
sports alpine skiing history

giant slalom
super g

Alpine Skiing History

People have long used skis to traverse snow-covered terrain. Cave paintings suggest the origins of skiing could date back about 5,000 years to Scandinavia. Ancient Norwegians are believed to have attached large animal bones to their feet to improve their mobility while hunting in snowy conditions.

Toni Sailer of Austria, the first triple-gold alpine skier at the 1956 Games.
Photo: AFP
In the 1800s, cross-country skiing had become a popular leisure activity and mode of transportation in Scandinavia. The development of improved equipment helped its advancement. Alpine skiing, born out of the Nordic discipline, didn't evolve into a sport until the 19th century.

Some historians point to Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen's journey to Greenland on cross-country skis in 1888 as an historic point in the discipline's development. Nansen's trek inspired French, Swiss, German and Austrian mountaineers to import skis from Scandinavia.

Skis started popping up all over Europe, but there was a major hurdle preventing skiing from catching on throughout central Europe. Nordic skiing techniques didn't work on the mountainous Alpine terrain. Enthusiasts were forced to adapt the equipment to make it more stable and forgiving on downhill slopes. They also experimented with new turns and pole usage to navigate the steeper slopes of the Alps. It was from these picturesque mountains that alpine skiing derived its name.

Continuous improvements to equipment, increased ski facilities and the development of rope tows, T-bars, chair lifts and gondolas boosted the sport's popularity. Skiers no longer needed to spend half a morning climbing the side of a mountain only to whisk to the bottom in about a minute.

Early speed racers
Germany's Katja Seizinger was a force in women's alpine events in 1994 and 1998.
Photo: AFP
England's Arnold Lunn and Austrian Hannes Schneider invented modern alpine ski racing. Lunn spent years traveling in the Alps and believed it was a prime locale for ski competitions. In 1922, he organized first slalom event in Muerren, Switzerland. Lunn banded together with Schneider the following year to arrange the Arlberg-Kandahar combined slalom and downhill event, which is widely viewed as the first competitive international alpine contest.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) was founded in Chamonix, France in 1924 during the first Winter Olympics. Nordic skiing was a part of the original Winter Olympic program, but the fledgling sport of alpine racing was left out.

Lunn lobbied the FIS to sanction alpine events, and the governing body agreed. The first FIS world championships for men's downhill and slalom events began in 1931. Women didn't compete in world championships until in 1950.

The FIS' inclusion of alpine events paved the way for its Olympic inclusion. The men's and women's combined event debuted at the 1936 Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, although the annual World Cup circuit did not get going until 1967.

Downhill and slalom competitions were added as separate Olympic events at the 1948 Games in St. Moritz. The giant slalom joined the Olympic program at the 1952 Oslo Games, the same year the combined competition was dropped. The 1988 Calgary Games saw the addition of super-G and the reintroduction of combined.

Golden Olympians
France's Jean-Claude Killy on the way to giant slalom gold in 1968 - one of his three gold medals at the Grenoble Games.
Photo: AFP
Perhaps because of the sheer speed and excitement of the sport, or maybe because of its overtones of a jet-setting resort lifestyle, alpine skiing has evolved into one of the glamour events of the Winter Olympics, producing an impressive collection of champions.

Andrea Mead Lawrence of the United States won the women's slalom and giant slalom at the 1952 Oslo Games to become the first multiple Olympic gold medallist in alpine. Four years later at the 1956 Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, Toni Sailer -- one of the first of a long line of Austrian greats -- became the first skier to capture all three men's alpine events (downhill, giant slalom and slalom) at the same Olympics.

Marielle and Christine Goitschel, teenaged sisters from France, were a sensation at the 1964 Games in Innsbruck, finishing one-two in the giant slalom, with Christine winning the slalom. Marielle skied to a second gold in the slalom at the 1968 Grenoble Games. France's Jean-Claude Killy was the story at those Games. He matched Sailer's triple win, sweeping all three men's alpine disciplines and becoming skiing's greatest icon of the 1960s.

At the 1976 Innsbruck Games, Germany's Rosi Mittermaier came within a fraction of a second of becoming the only woman to sweep all the Olympic alpine events. Mittermaier raced to gold in the slalom and downhill but had to settle for silver in the giant slalom behind 18-year-old upset winner Kathy Kreiner, a native of Timmins, Ont., who won Canada's only gold medal at those Games.

Hanni Wenzel from the tiny European nation of Liechtenstein won her country's first Olympic medal by taking slalom bronze in Innsbruck. She went on to secure her place in Olympic history with gold medal performances in slalom and giant slalom at the '80 Games in Lake Placid.

Technical specialist Ingemar Stenmark was the next big name to dominate men's skiing. The immensely skilled Swede won slalom and giant slalom gold in Lake Placid. Stenmark was still on top of the skiing world in 1984, but he was unable to defend his titles at the Sarajevo Games when it was ruled he earned too much money to be considered an amateur.

Alberto Tomba of Italy won three gold and just missed on a fourth at the 1988 and 1992 Games.
Photo: AFP
Alberto Tomba, another technical skier, grabbed the reins from Stenmark. The Italian won the slalom and giant slalom at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. He became the first skier to defend an Olympic title by winning the 1992 giant slalom. He came within a shade of becoming the only skier to win four Olympic gold medals with his slalom silver in Albertville.

Swiss skier Vreni Schneider won slalom and giant slalom gold in Calgary. She returned to Lillehammer six years later to reclaim slalom gold, becoming the first three-time gold-medal winner in the women' events. She also won a giant slalom bronze and silver in the combined in Lillehammer.

Katja Seizinger of Germany matched Schneider's feat, climbing the Olympic podium five times. She is first woman to repeat as an event winner, taking downhill gold in '94 and at the 1998 Nagano Games.

Austria's Hermann Maier is the latest living legend of skiing. The Herminator won gold in the giant slalom and super-G and left an impression even when he lost, as a spectacular crash took him out of the downhill.

Crazy Canucks
Canadians have graced the Olympic alpine skiing podium 10 times, climbing to the top step on four occasions. Lucille Wheeler collected Canada's first Olympic alpine medal, winning downhill bronze at the 1956 Games. At the next Olympics, Ottawa-native Anne Heggtveit decimated the field by 3.3 seconds to earn Canada's first and only slalom gold.

Nancy Greene, dubbed the Tiger for her aggressive, attacking style, was upstaged by Killy in 1968, but won a gold and a silver for Canada.
Photo: AFP
Nancy Greene of Rossland, B.C. is the most decorated Canadian alpine skier in history. Greene's determination and skill led the first World Cup champion to giant slalom gold and slalom silver at the 1968 Olympics.

Kreiner's upset victory over Mittermaier in 1976 was the talk of the Innsbruck Games, and four years later, Steve Podborski led the men's team, lovingly labelled the Crazy Canucks, to its only podium performance in Lake Placid. After favouirte Ken Read crashed 15 seconds into the race when a binding popped open, Podborski thrilled the Canadian contingent with his bronze-medal run.

Karen Percy gave the hometown fans two reasons to cheer in at the 1988 Calgary Games. The speed racer zipped to bronze medals in downhill and the inaugural Olympic super-G. Kerrin Lee-Gartner did the unexpected by claiming gold in the women's downhill at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, becoming the first North American win the event.

Canada's last Olympic alpine success came in Lillehammer, when Edi Podivinsky earned the second Olympic medal in men's alpine history by taking bronze in the downhill.

Multiple Gold Medallists
Deborah Compagnoni, Italy - 3 (Giant Slalom, Super-G)
Jean-Claude Killy, France - 3 (Slalom, Giant Slalom, Downhill)
Toni Sailer, Austria - 3 (Slalom, Giant Slalom, Downhill)
Vreni Schneider, Switzerland - 3 (Slalom, Giant Slalom)
Katja Seizinger, Germany - 3 (Downhill, Combined)
Alberto Tomba, Italy - 3 (Slalom Giant Slalom)

The Legends
Henri Oreiller, France - 1948
Toni Sailer, Austria - 1956
Christine Goitschel, France - 1964
Marielle Goitschel, France - 1964, 1968
Nancy Greene, Canada - 1968
Jean-Claude Killy, France - 1968
Francisco Fernandez Ochoa, Spain - 1972
Marie-Therese Nadig, Switzerland - 1972
Annemarie Moser-Proll, Austria - 1972, 1980
Franz Klammer, Austria - 1976
Rosi Mittermaier, West Germany - 1976
Ingemar Stenmark, Sweden - 1980
Hanni Wenzel, Liechtenstein - 1980
Phil Mahre, U.S. - 1980, 1984
Alberto Tomba, Italy - 1988, 1992
Vreni Schneider, Switzerland - 1988, 1994
Deborah Compagnoni, Italy - 1992, 1994, 1998
Kjetil-Andre Aamodt, Norway - 1992, 1994
Katja Seizinger, Germany - 1994, 1998
Hermann Maier, Austria - 1998
Lasse Kjus, Norway - 1998

1 GER 12 16 7
2 NOR 11 7 6
3 USA 10 13 11
4 RUS 6 6 4
5 CAN 6 3 8
6 FRA 4 5 2
7 ITA 4 4 4
8 FIN 4 4 4
9 NED 3 5 0
10 SUI 3 2 6

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