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30 Jan 2015
IOC News

Bernhard Russi relives his triumphant run in Sapporo

On the slopes of Mount Eniwa on 7 February 1972, Bernhard Russi won the downhill skiing gold at the Olympic Winter Games. This success represented the pinnacle of the career of a man who subsequently went on to design every Olympic downhill course since 1988. As part of our Words of Olympians series, the Swiss Alpine skiing legend takes us back 42 years to relive the one minute and 51 seconds of his triumphant run in Sapporo.

On 15 February 1970, a 22-year-old Swiss skier from the canton of Uri, who was competing in his first major international event, unexpectedly prevailed on the Saslong piste in Val Gardena (ITA) to become world champion. That surprise victory heralded the beginning of Bernhard Russi’s decade of dominance, during which he would only ever share the spotlight with other legendary stars of the sport such as Franz Klammer (AUT).

Two years later in Japan, he added the Olympic title to his CV. In the video below, he explains that the sight of a red camera light at the end of his run – and the thoughts it subsequently generated – caused him to momentarily lose his focus, but fortunately the distraction had no significant impact on the final result.

At the 1976 Olympic Games in Innsbruck (AUT), Russi put in another splendid performance, but was pipped to the post by home favourite Klammer, who claimed gold by just 0.33 seconds.

Over the course of his marvellous career, Russi collected 10 wins and 28 top-three finishes in the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup. After stepping onto the podium one final time in Cortina d’Ampezzo (ITA) in December 1977, he decided to hang up his skis at the age of 29. His passion for the sport would never leave him, however.

In the 1980s, the retired medallist took on the role of downhill course designer on behalf of the FIS. On occasion, completely undeveloped sites would be chosen, involving exploratory helicopter flights over mountains and expeditions on skis with topographical measurements in hand. Great care went into selecting the right slope on which future champions would be made, such as the Olympiabakken course in Kvitfjell, used first at Lillehammer 1994 and then as the annual venue for World Cup races, or the Rosa Khutor course used for the Sochi Games in 2014.

In addition, Russi, who says “skiing is my life”, introduced inspired improvements to many existing courses, such as the Face de Bellevarde in Val d’Isère (FRA), the spectacular stage for downhill events at Albertville 1992, the ‘Grizzly Downhill’ at the Snowbasin resort (Salt Lake City 2002) and the Banchetta run in Sestriere (Turin 2006).

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