Austrian Ski Legend Toni Sailer, 1935-2009

Dead at the age of 73 is Toni Sailer, the alpine ski legend from Austria who became the first man to achieve the “alpine sweep” winning the giant slalom, slalom and downhill at the 1956 Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo (Italy).

OLY-WINTER-1956-SKI-TONI SAILER

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Sailer’s sweep was unique until it was duplicated by Frenchman Jean-Claude Killy at Grenoble in 1968. Here’s Ron Judd’s take on Sailer’s race from his book, “The Winter Olympics: An Insider’s Guide to the Legends, the Lore and the Games:”

Toni Sailer’s Alpine Sweep
Austrian superstar Toni Sailer’s unprecedented three-gold “alpine sweep” in 1956 will long be remembered not only because it was a first, but for the spectacular distance the Kitzbuehel native put between himself and the rest of the field in the process. Sailer, known as the “Blitz from Kitz,” covered Cortina’s 71-gate giant slalom course on Tondi di Faloria an astonishing 6.2 seconds faster than countryman Andreas Molterer–still the largest margin in Olympic alpine skiing history.

Two days later, he won the slalom by 4 seconds and then took on the downhill, which almost proved his undoing. Moments before the race, Sailer broke a ski-boot strap and couldn’t find a replacement until an Italian team trainer lent him his own. Then, at the top of an icy course that sent eight other skiers off on stretchers, Sailer nearly crashed, landing a jump on the tails of both skis but pulling off a split-legged recovery that kept him on course and sent him into history, winning by 3.5 seconds. He reportedly gave one gold medal to each of his parents, saving the third one for himself.

His sporting exploits helped Austrians regain pride in their country after the shame of WWII and the Holocaust. His sweep at the Olympics in 1956 came less than a year after the founding of the new Austrian Republic in 1955.

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