Norway’s Birger Ruud had already built quite a reputation for himself by the time Garmisch 1936 came around. An Olympic ski jumping gold medallist at Lake Placid 1932, Ruud was also a two-time world champion and the holder of the world record, achieved with a leap of 92m in Planica (YUG) in 1934.
There was more to the multi-talented Norwegian than just ski jumping, however. His first competition in Garmisch came not on the Große Olympiaschanze hill but on Mount Kreuzjoch, where the inaugural Olympic Alpine skiing competition was held on the morning of 7 February 1932.
The competition was a combined event, with the downhill race being held before the slalom, which is still the case today, and the times in the two disciplines being added together to provide the final standings. The start point for the downhill race was 1,719 metres above sea level, with the course running for 3.800 kilometres and comprising a vertical drop of 959 metres.
Wearing the No3 bib, Ruud showed no little skill as he fearlessly negotiated the course, stopping the clock at 4:47.4, fully four seconds clear of Germany’s Franz Pfnür in second, with fellow Norwegian Gustav Lantschner and France’s Émile Allais over ten seconds back in third and fourth.
A less accomplished slalom skier, Ruud missed a gate in the first run on Mount Gudiberg two days later and had to climb back up the course to negotiate it, a slip-up that cost him a six-second penalty and a spot on the podium. He eventually placed fourth overall, with Pfnür taking the gold ahead of Lantschner and Allais.
Undeterred, Ruud lined up for the ski jumping competition a week later, held before an expectant crowd of 100,000 at the hill where the Olympic flame was burning bright. Sweden’s Sven Ivan Eriksson led the way in the first round with a jump of 76m, a metre ahead of Ruud in second place, with his team-mates Reidar Andersen Kaare Wahlberg and Finland’s Lauri Valonen all within a metre and a half of the versatile Norwegian.
Wahlberg then took the lead with a second-round leap of 72m before Japan’s Shinji Tastuta outjumped everyone with a competition-best of 77m, only to fall on landing.
The 34th competitor down the in-run, Ruud once again showcased his gift for rising to the occasion, sailing out to 74.5m. Coupled with excellent style marks, that leap gave him a combined total of 232 points, which Eriksson could not match, despite once again going out to 76m. The Swede had to settle for silver, his country’s very first ski jumping medal, while Andersen jumped 75m to nudge Wahlberg out of third place.
Along with his elder brother Sigmund and younger brother Asbjørn, Ruud would dominate world ski jumping throughout the 1930s. After fighting with the Norwegian resistance against Nazi Germany’s occupying forces during the Second World War, the intrepid Ruud returned to competitive action, winning the third Olympic ski jumping medal of his career – a silver – at the age of 36 at St Moritz 1948.
Ruud was chosen to light the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, but had to turn down the invitation due to a heart condition. The ski jumping great died on 13 June 1998, aged 86, in his home town of Kongsberg, where a bronze statue of him in full flight now stands.