Russi rises to the top
Born in the mountains and able to ski almost before he could run,Bernhard Russi seemingly destined for the summit of the Alpine skiing world.
The Swiss made his World Cup debut in 1968, at the age of 19, and a year and a half later he was racing on the circuit full-time. He only had to wait a few months for his first top-10 finish, and then claimed the downhill title at the 1970 World Championships.
From there on his rise to the top was unstoppable. In the season leading into the 1972 Winter Games he won the overall World Cup title and arrived in Sapporo hotly tipped to win downhill gold.
The early pace was set by Russi’s Swiss team-mate Andreas Sprecher, who clocked a time of 1 minute 53.11 seconds that would be tough to beat.
However, when Russi raced out of the gate it was immediately clear he had brought his best form to Japan. He produced a lightning fast run, eventually crossing the line in 1 minute 51.43 seconds, more than one and a half seconds quicker than his compatriot.
Nobody else could get close to that mark, and Russi duly took gold. Another Swiss athlete, Roland Collombin claimed silver, a massive 0.64 seconds back, with Austria's Heini Messner almost a second behind Russi in third.
Four years later, Russi was a fraction of a second from retaining his downhill title but had to settle for silver behind Austria’s Franz Klammer. It remains the nearest that any man has come to winning back-to-back Olympic downhill golds.
Russi retired from international competition in 1978, but that was not the end of his association with the Olympic Winter Games. He became an internationally renowned designer of Alpine courses for the International Skiing Federation, and was responsible for the design of the downhill courses for five different editions of the Winter Games between 1988 and 2002.