Arnie Wilson: Interviewing Franz Klammer

From ski writer and Ongosa guest contributor Arnie Wilson. This week Arnie interviews one of the all-time greats of skiing, "The Kaiser" Franz Klammer, exclusively for Ongosa.

Published on Tue 02 Apr, 2019Franz Klammer racing the Kitzbuhel downhill

Arnie Wilson writes:

Long before the rare combination of sheer talent plus fiery determination would bring global fame to Franz Klammer, he knew skiing would be his life and inspiration – even if he never won a race in his life!

As a little boy, Klammer regularly skied down to his school in Mooswald, Carinthia – Austria’s southernmost province, also home to two other ski areas close to the “Kaiser’s” heart: Bad Kleinkirchheim (BKK)-St Oswald. Winter in Carinthia often means cloudless skies, glorious sunshine and sparkling snow. Often known as the “sunny side of the Alps” – it’s on the border of Italy and Slovenia.

“I learned to ski in Carinthia at the age of two, on the slopes behind our farm in the mountains” he says. “All I can remember is that my mum put me on skis. By the time I was 14 I knew I was going to be a skier. Skiing already meant everything to me – everything! It gave me the chance to escape my roots – although I always return to my roots. But it gave me my big chance to see the world. I have never regretted it! Not just seeing the world, but skiing also rewarded me with the chance to meet people I would never have met otherwise. I had no idea what I’d have done otherwise – I had no back-up plan. I love to chat with people. I always thought that’s why you have six and eight seater chairs and gondolas – for people to chat and have fun with.

Franz Klammer on the Hahnenkamm

“It’s not about skiing fast, which of course I had to do to win races. 

But I like to ski (relatively!) slowly, enjoy good snow, meet people on the mountains and enjoy stunning views from the slopes. People should not ski too fast for their ability! I honestly go mad when I see this and sometimes even confront them!

“Skiing completely changed my life. It’s been very very important – really special, even if I hadn’t been a champion. It has fulfilled my dreams - really! I enjoy every turn - and the beauty of the mountains.”

It was in Bad Kleinkirchheim that Klammer won his first Europa Cup downhill race in 1971. And of course he went on to have a stellar career. Even now, 42 years after he astonished the world with his crazy, gung-ho victory in the downhill at the Innsbruck Olympics, he is still a household name, not just in Carinthia and Austria, but around the world.

Franz Klammer holding skis

Back in 1976, Klammer, then 22, had won eight out of nine World Cup victories, and there was enormous pressure for him to win on his own turf. The man he had to beat was the reigning champion, Bernhard Russi of Switzerland, who had clocked a very fast time of 1.46.06. Klammer, surged down the mountain in a wild-frenzy, arms akimbo, taking risk after risk as he pursued an almost suicidal course down the Olympic Hill at Igls to finish 28 hundredths of a second faster than Russi. To this day, Klammer remains – comfortably – the most successful World Cup downhill racer of all time. He won 25 World Cup downhills, including four on the Hahnenkamm at Kitzbühel. At 64, he still skis sublimely and without arrogance, and - to be fair - always waits (eventually) for tail-end Charlies like me!

“I never tire of the Carinthia region, or BKK” he says. “It’s is a very nice family ski resort, with very-well maintained slopes and some of the best hotels in Europe. BKK has more than 60 miles of runs served by 26 lifts.” Plus (maybe appropriately for Herr Klammer?) a “speed measurement piste.”

Any plans to give up skiing when you hit 70 in a few years’ time? I asked him.

“Never thought about it”. I knew he’d say that!

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