Downhill skiers have a reputation as being wild and reckless. Pirmin Zurbriggen, who grew up in Switzerland's Valois Alps, was the opposite of this stereotype: a deeply religious homebody. But if he was mild-manned in his daily life, Zurbriggen transformed into an aggressive competitor when he attacked the slopes.
Champion, half a second before everybody else
Zurbriggen made his Olympic debut in 1984, when he finished fourth in the downhill, missing a medal by only one tenth of a second. He also participated in the slalom, but did not finish. At the 1988 Calgary Olympics, Zurbriggen competed in all five Alpine events. He began with an explosive downhill run that earned him a half second victory over world champion Peter Müller. In the Alpine combined event, Zurbriggen recorded the fastest time of the downhill run and led by more than two seconds after the first slalom run.
Shaken up by an accident
He seemed well on his way to a second gold medal when he hooked a tip on the 39th of 57 gates on the second slalom run and ended up on his back. Between the two runs of the giant slalom, Zurbriggen was riding on the chairlift when he witnessed a horrible accident in which a member of Austria's medical team was killed by a snow-grooming machine. A shaken Zurbriggen went ahead with his second run and earned the bronze medal.