Alpine Skiing in The Olympics
Every season scores of children learn to ski almost as soon as they walk. By age 15 junior racers around the world are vying for positions on national ski teams and rankings at FIS competitions, in hopes of competing at the Olympics.
Where did it all Start?From the Norwegian endurance and aerial based sport, named for the Telemark plateau, British skiers helped develop modern alpine skiing. In 1911, having mastered Telemark, Christiania (both named for Norwegian towns) and stem turns, British alpine clubs organized The Roberts of Kandahar Challenge Cup, at Mürren, Switzerland, the continent’s first alpine race. Called a downhill, racers skied an unmarked course against the clock down the Plaine Morte Glacier over rough snow with natural hazards forcing contestants to turn.
Despite the British love of decent, alpine skiing was slow to enter the world-racing arena. Tight regulations by the Federation Internationale de Ski or FIS, a Scandinavian ski aristocracy that ran the world championship competitions, gave only jumping and cross-country races official recognition. According to Morten Lund, author of A Short History of Alpine Skiing published in Skiing Heritage Magazine, winter 1996, the Scandinavians, who held the top competitor titles, “perceived slalom and downhill as upstart oddities, not worthy of associating with the Nordic disciplines. [Thus,] FIS firmly banned them from the first international world ski championship in 1924, at Chamonix, France.”
FIS used the 1924 world championship to petition the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to sanction the event as a Winter Olympic competition. The IOC vetoed the idea, but did allow FIS to call the event an Olympic Winter Carnival. Due to the surprising success of the Chaminix games, the IOC formally established separate Winter Olympic Games in 1928. That same year, Schneider’s Ski Club from Arlberg, Austria and Britain’s Kandahar Ski Club ran the first Arlberg-Kandahar alpine combined. Open to all alpine skiers, the AK attracted the largest entry of alpine racers on the continent; the winner claimed the title of alpine racer of the year. The popularity of combined races encouraged rival resorts to establish their own alpine events. Kitzbühel ran its first Hahnenkamm combined in 1931, as did Switzerland’s Lauberhorn at Wengen, becoming the oldest permanently sited races.
Pressure From the AuthoritiesThe attention of the AK and the increasing pressure applied by Arnold Lunn, editor of the Ski Club of Great Britain journals, convinced FIS to accept the British rules for Downhill and Slalom racing on 27 February 1930. The first World Championship in Downhill-Slalom was held at Murren, Switzerland in February 1931. Walter Prager (Swiss) won the downhill and David Zogg (Swiss) the slalom. British skier Esme Mackinnon won both the women's downhill and slalom competitions.
Alpine skiing made its Olympic debut at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games with six medals (three for each sex), featuring a downhill and two slalom runs. Franz Pfnür and Christl Cranz of Germany won the Gold medals. Sapporo, Japan was awarded the 1940 Winter Olympics, but their invasion of China in the Sino-Japanese War forced the IOC to give the games to St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Three months later the IOC withdrew the Games from St. Moritz because of quarrels with the Swiss organization team. Garmisch-Partenkirchen stepped in to organize the Games again, but Germany’s invasion of Poland caused the cancellation of the 1940 Games entirely. The continuation of World War II again caused the cancellation of the 1944 Winter Olympics, scheduled to take place in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
The Winter Games resumed in 1948 in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Giant slalom, combining aspects of both downhill and slalom events, first appeared at the 1952 Oslo Games. In 1956, at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, Austrian skier Toni Sailer won all three alpine events: downhill, slalom and giant slalom, making him the first to sweep the alpine medals. French hero Jean-Claude Killy repeated the feat in 1968 at Chamonix, France, the last to do so. Racers now tend to specialize, making a Grand Slam in alpine skiing less and less likely.
The Alpine DebutThe first alpine Olympics held in America, at Squaw Valley in 1960, also marked the first time a gold medal was won by a non-wood ski; Jean Vuarnet won the downhill on a pair of metal Allais skis. In 1986, the IOC voted to alternate the summer and winter Olympic Games in even-numbered years. 1988 proved to be another big year for skiers with the addition of the super giant slalom, or super G, event at the Calgary Games as well as the introduction of Freestyle skiing: aerials, ballet and moguls, as a demonstration sport. Due to the event’s popularity, freestyle moguls became an official medal sport at Albertville in 1992. Edgar Grospiron of France and Donna Weinbrecht of the USA won the Golds
Since 1994, moguls and aerials have been the official Freestyle Olympic events, enticing more children to get an early start in their competitive skiing careers.