FIS 50 Years World Cup Kitzbühel
Kitzbühel’s Hahnenkamm event at Kitzbühel is not the oldest ‘Ski Classic’ on the Alpine circuit yet for sure one of the most prestigious competitions to win! Launched in 1931, a year after the first Lauberhorn Races at Wengen and two years after the start of the Arlberg-Kandahar competitions at St. Anton and then Mürren, the Hahnenkamm weekend soon established itself in the late 1960s as the one of the most prominent stops on the newly born World Cup tour.
The famous ‘Streif’ run – the Ribbon – used since 1937 by the Kitzbühel Ski Club, organizer of the ‘Hahnenkamm-Rennen’, is often considered as the most challenging – and even treacherous – downhill course on the snow planet, especially when snow covering it has been iced in some of its toughest parts as the ‘Mausefall’ (Mouse-Trap) situated a few seconds below the start-house, the ‘Steilhang’ (SteepSlope) that soon follows a series of narrow turns, or the horrendous ‘Hausbergkante’ (Hausberg-Jump) which leads the racers towards the vertiginous and very fast ‘Ziel-Schuss’ (Arrival Schuss) were athletes are sometimes gliding at 150 km/h towards the finish line situated only a few minutes far from the center of the beautiful medieval town.
Nowadays the Hahnenkamm week surely represents the highlight of the World Cup season and a true social event. Nearly 100,000 spectators including VIPs, former ski stars and local celebrities, are each winter attending the training runs, the speed events and the slalom hold from Wednesday to Sunday.
From Killy’s triumphs in 1967 to last year’s terrible crash of Norway’s leader Aksel Lund Svindal in downhill, some of the most exciting or dramatic moments in the history of alpine ski racing took place in Kitzbühel! The series of victories of ‘Kaiser’ Franz Klammer from 1975 to 1977 and then in 1984 remain unforgotten – the Olympic Champion from 1976 remains the only speed specialist having excelled four times on the original ‘Streif’ course during the World Cup era – winning its first race there in January 1975 by only 1/100 of a second ahead of Italy’s Gustavo Thoeni. Karl Schranz won three World Cup downhills on the Streif – one in 1969 and two in 1972 – yet his first win took already place in January 1966.
In January 1985 Switzerland’s Pirmin Zurbriggen, defending overall World Cup champion that season, celebrated his first two downhill victories in Kitzbühel, yet slightly injured his left knee at a jump during his second victorious race. He needed to undergo arthroscopic surgery a day later in a clinic at Basle – but he had no time to relax as he wished to quickly return on his skis in time to compete at the Ski World Championships at Bormio in February. In fact thanks to intense rehab, Pirmin was back on snow two weeks later and in February, despite starting with bib 1, he captured the gold medal in downhill in the Italian resort!
His arch-rival Marc Girardelli too won his maiden World Cup downhill in January 1989 at Kitzbühel where he also excelled several times in the slalom and the coveted combined. That season he became the only ski racer able to enjoy victories in all alpine events – including combined – during the same season!
Sweden’s superstar Ingemar Stenmark has also been very successful in slalom on the demanding ‘Ganslerhang’ slope where he sometimes beat his nearest rivals by several seconds (!) as in 1982 when he beat USA’s Phil Mahre by abyssal 3,16 seconds – Italy’ Paolo de Chiesa was 3rd ex aequo with Steve Mahre at 4,12 seconds ! In 1981 while fighting with Phil for another overall World Cup title, Ingemar decided at the last moment to enter the downhill in order to score a few points in a combined event tying that speed race to the previous slalom at Oberstaufen that he ended in 2nd place. He lost over ten seconds on the winner, Canada’s Steve Podborski on the Streif, yet he still managed to be 3rd in that combined …. Not good enough though as he lost the big globe by six points at the end of the winter after failing to win any race in the last part of the season dominated by Phil Mahre!
Later on in 1990, the organizers set up the first two-run downhill on the lower part of the ‘Streif’ – it was dominated by Norway’s Atle Skaardal, the current World Cup race director on the women’s tour. That exciting event was often organized in the following years prior to the traditional downhill – before being replaced by a spectacular Super-G race also hold on Fridays.
Many crashes and accidents which occurred in the last decades can confirm how treacherous the Streif can be in its toughest sections – and also explain how happy and proud most racers are being able to overcome their fear and attack the course with great determination. Winners immediately become true ski heroes! “You need to respect the Streif a lot and never underestimate it when you race it down,” explained once Switzerland’s Didier Cuche, a six-time winner in Kitzbühel in downhill and Super-G. “It’s surely an incredible feeling to come down with the best time of the day!”
With a total of five wins in Super-G (and one in downhill) Hermann Maier has also been very successful in Kitzbühel during his impressive career. His most emotional and amazing victory certainly took place in January 2003, only two weeks after his comeback on the circuit following his life-threatening motorcycle accident from September 2001.
The racer from Flachau was fighting hard to compete at the FIS World Championships at St.Moritz –the Austrian Ski Federation strongly helped him that time in moving the cancelled Super-G from Friday to Monday in order to give him a last chance. Racing with bib 22, the ‘Herminator’ clocked the best time despite his weak right leg and the intense snow shower disturbing the race that day - and qualified for the medal events at St.Moritz where he clinched silver in the Super-G behind his teammate Stephan Eberharter! A year later he won his fourth overall World Cup title and another gold medal in giant slalom at Bormio in 2005!
The Ski Legend goes on!