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 Look back at the 1976 Winter Games.

  Koch Stuns Nordic Skiers; Klammer Wins Downhill

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 6, 1976; Page D1

 Austria's Franz Klammer said he sacrificed safety for speed in the final 200 meters of the downhill.
( File Photo)
INNSBRUCK, Austria, Feb. 5 — Bill Koch, a 20-year-old cross-country skier from Guilford, Vt., pulled off the biggest surprise of the second day of the Winter Olympics today by winning a silver medal in the 30-kilometer event.

It was the first time in 12 Olympics that an American has won a medal in a Nordic cross-country skiing and jumping event and highlighted a surprisingly productive day for U.S. athletes.

Sheila Young of Detroit, who holds the record for 500 meters, finished second in the 1,500 meters for a silver medal.

And, while Austrian superskier Franz Klammer won the downhill as expected, Andy Mill of Aspen, Colorado, was sixth, Greg Jones of Tahoe City, California, 11th and Pete Patterson of Sun Valley, Idaho, 13th in the best American downhill showing since 1952.

 Bill Koch
 Bill Koch's silver was the first time in 12 Olympics that an American has won a medal in a Nordic cross-country skiing and jumping event. (File Photo)
But the biggest surprise was Koch, who covered the 18.6-mile course in 1 hour 31 minutes and 59.57 seconds to finish second behind Sergei Savaliev of the Soviet Union. Savaliev's time was 1 hour 30 minutes and 29.35 seconds.

"It makes me feel very excited and I hope the American people are very excited, too," Koch declared.

Ivan Garanin of the Soviet Union, who finished third behind Koch and earned the bronze medal, said, "We knew the American [Koch] was strong, but we were surprised to see him finish second."

Koch's showing might possibly have been helped by the withdrawal from the race of Sweden's Thomas Magnusson, the 1974 world champion in the 30-kilometer event and one of the favorites here. Magnusson's father died Wednesday and the skier immediately returned home.

Young, who competed in the 1972 Summer Games in Munich as a cyclist, is the world record holder in the 500-meter spring. She considered the 1,500 a warmup to the 500, which will be contested Friday, and was pleased with her performance today.

She was soaring over the initial 1,300 meters, but seemed to fade in the final 200, finishing behind Galina Stepanskaya of the Soviet Union. Stepanskaya's time was 2:16.6; Young's 2:17.96.

"I was psyched up for this race, but I really didn't think I'd do that well," Young said. "I'm really excited about getting this silver. For me, it was unexpected and gives me encouragement and confidence going into my favorite race [500].

Obviously to the Austrians this gloriously sunny day belonged to Klammer, a reigning national hero from Mooswald who had won three World Cup downhill races this year, and eight of nine he entered in 1975.

His countrymen were fearful that his starting position — 15th in the 15-man first seed — would do him in on the two-mile Patscherkofel run high above the city.

Instead, it made him go faster, because he had to.

Bernhard Russi from Switzerland, running third on a course so icily treacherous it had to be salted before the race, winged down the hill in 1:46.06, and the next 11 skiers could not beat him.

Then came Klammer.

He had some difficulty at the top, very nearly missing a gate as he wooshed down the mountain. His splits over the two intermediate areas trailed several of the previous competitors, but no one negotiated the final 500 meters like Klammer.

Most in the crowd of 50,000 lining that part of the course were chanting Klammer's name and waving red and white Austrian flags as he roared down the hill. On the final major bump, he flew high in the air, ducked into the finish and lifted his arms in triumph.

A tremendous roar greeted him at the bottom as the time flashed — 1:45.73 — breaking his own course record by 10 seconds. Russi, the 1972 winner at Sapporo, watched in agony sitting on a bale of hay at the bottom, and could only shake his head. Fifty-one other skiers followed, and none were even close.

"I gave myself terrible frights," Klammer said. "I almost fell several times. I was thrown into the air so often I was sure I was going to fall.

"Russi's time was so good I really didn't think I could beat it. I did not think it was possible to do this run under 1:46. Up there, I made such a massive mistake I almost missed a gate, and I thought for a minute that was it for me."

And that is what his coach, former Olympic gold medal winner Toni Sailer, thought as well.

"I closed my eyes and thought this was the end of the gold medal," Sailer said. "I only dared reopen them when I didn't hear the sound of a crash."

"To be second behind Klammer is no disgrace," said Russi. "He really is the greatest downhill skier of recent years."

Klammer said he sacrificed safety for speed in the final 200 meters. "I let myself go on that last bend," he said. "The same as I did here last year, and again it worked." Russi was second and Italy's Herbert Plank third in 1:46.59.

When he skimmed down to the bottom of the hill, Klammer was mobbed by the security guards there to protect him. Several of his friends in the Austrian press even joined the celebration.

They lifted him high in the air several times as the crowd roared its approval. Austrians hugged each other, and many of them were crying from the joy of it all.

Late in the day, Coleen O'Connor, 24, and James Millns, 27, of Colorado Springs tightened their hold on third place after the second phase of ice-dancing competition. The pair has a shot at a silver medal going into the final event, the freestyle; they seem assured of a bronze medal barring a bad performance.

© Copyright 1976 The Washington Post Company

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