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Calgary 1988

Alpine Skiing - Zurbriggen justifies downhill hype

Few Alpine skiers arrived in Calgary with a loftier reputation than Switzerland's Pirmin Zurbriggen. He had won world titles in downhill, combined, super-G and giant slalom and was well on his way to winning his third overall World Cup title. In 1987, he had absolutely dominated the international men’s skiing scene, and entered all five men’s Alpine events in Calgary, with very real prospects of winning a medal in each of them.

His first opportunity came in the blue riband event, the downhill. It was a chance for Zurbriggen to confirm himself as the fastest Alpine skier in the world, a mantle that many had already awarded him.

Could the Swiss cope with the weight of expectation? His biggest challenge was expected to come from his Swiss team-mate Peter Müller, the 1987 world downhill champion. The two compatriots hailed from contrasting backgrounds: Müller was from the city, while Zurbriggen came from a tiny Alpine village. Müller was an extrovert who focused all of his energies on the downhill, while Zurbriggen, the ultimate all-rounder, was by nature quiet and shy.

Müller was first to ski and he set a blistering time. For a while, nobody could get within three seconds of his mark and he still held a 1.42 second lead by the time Zurbriggen raced out of the gate. He threw everything into his performance and produced a run that seemed to touch on perfection. At the first split he held a slender lead and slowly extended that advantage until crossing the line in 1 minute 59.63 seconds, putting him nearly half a second ahead of Müller. It was one of the greatest displays of downhill skiing ever seen at the Winter Games. Just as he did four years earlier, Müller had to settle for silver.

Zurbriggen didn't manage to win gold in any of his other four events, though he took a bronze medal in the giant slalom. But his incredible performance in the downhill was the stuff of Olympic legends.

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