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Monti begins brilliant bobsleigh career

Italia Team IOC

Born and bred in Toblach, on the Italian border with Austria, Eugenio Monti initially stood out as a gifted skier, winning the slalom and giant slalom events at the Italian national championships. But after a dreadful fall in 1951, the 23-year-old was forced to bid farewell to a career on the slopes after badly damaging both his knees. Turning instead to the bobsleigh, he worked hard and developed into one of Italy’s most proficient pilots, landing the Italian title in 1954.

The four Italian teams (two in the two-man and two in the four-man) were distinguishable in Cortina by their pioneering hull-shaped bobs, which were much more akin to the design prevalent in the sport today. The four runs of the two-man competition took place on the 27 and 28 January, on a 1,700m-long Ronco track that included 17 tight turns.

Monti and Renzo Alverà (ITA), in the Italy II bob, came in just behind pacesetters Italy I (Lamberto Dalla Costa and Giacomo Conti) in all four runs. Finishing a total of 1.31 seconds behind their compatriots, Dalla Costa and Conti were forced to settle for silver, while Switzerland I (Max Angst and Harry Warburton), seven seconds back, took bronze.

The four-man contest was held on 3 and 4 February. After a tentative opening run, the Switzerland I team, made up of Franz Kapus, Gottfried Diener, Robert Alt and Heinrich Angst, found their feet and recorded the fastest times of the next three runs to collect the gold medal. Monti, piloting Italy II and aided by Alverà, Ulrico Girardi, and Renato Mocellini, produced four solid runs that guaranteed him a second silver medal. USA 1, piloted by Arthur Tyler, finished 0.29 further back.

The 1956 Games marked the beginning of a fantastic international career for Monti. Although bobsleigh was removed from the sporting programme at the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, he went on to win seven two-man titles (in 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963 and 1966) and two four-man crowns at the FIBT World Championships.

However, it was not until Innsbruck 1964 that Monti rose to true global prominence. During the two-man competition, the British pair of Tony Nash and Robin Dixon, on the verge of victory, broke a bolt on their sleigh prior to their final run. Resigned to pulling out, they were rescued by Monti, who gave them a bolt from his own bob. Great Britain won the gold medal, while Monti and Romano Bonagura gained a bronze. “Nash didn't win because I gave him the bolt. He won because he was the fastest,” he told the press.

Amazingly, a similar situation arose in the four-man competition, when Vic Emery’s Canada I bob suffered a serious mechanical problem. Without hesitation, Monti dispatched his mechanics to repair the North Americans’ sleigh, indirectly helping them to secure the Olympic title. Monti, who again finished third, was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal by the IOC in 1964 for these acts of sportsmanship.

Just when it seemed as if the top step of the Olympic podium might elude him forever, a 40-year-old Monti left the best for last at the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble. Competing in the two-man bobsleigh with Luciano de Paolis (ITA), he engaged in an enthralling duel with West Germany I, piloted by Horst Floth. At the culmination of four thrilling runs, the two teams found themselves with exactly the same combined time (4:41.54), but the Italians were awarded the gold medal by virtue of having recorded the fastest single leg, achieved during a record-breaking fourth run. Boosted by this long-awaited Olympic title, the hardy Italian overcame difficult conditions to lead the four-man Italian team to a second successive gold, again by an extremely tight margin. Monti thereby became the first man to prevail in both bobsleigh events during the same Olympic Winter Games.

After retiring from the track, the respected two-time Olympic champion managed the Italian bobsleigh team. The track in Cortina was renamed in his honour, as was one of the turns on the other Italian Olympic bobsleigh track, Cesana Pariol in Turin.

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