MOUNT ALLAN, ALBERTA -- The film, all those terrific and terrifying bursts spliced together, would run no more than 130 seconds. In about the length of time it sometimes takes to move a city block in light traffic, the world's daredevil skiers shoot through the fastest spot on the Olympic downhill course.
There are pieces of sporting heaven scattered about the world -- and the one here is called Bobtail. As golfers troop to the 12th hole of Augusta National to watch Jack Nicklaus, as runners crowd Heartbreak Hill for a glimpse of Bill Rodgers, devoted mountain people gathered Monday at Bobtail, about halfway down the run, to see Pirmin Zurbriggen whoosh by.
Even his rivals, back home in Switzerland and on the other inspiring slopes around the world, admit this son of a small-town innkeeper is the best. If he wins as grandly as predicted in the XV Olympics, Zurbriggen will be celebrated as the all-timer in a sport that traces its roots to Scandinavia at least 5,000 years ago.
Zurbriggen is thrilling at every Alpine discipline. He can hip-turn around poles in the slaloms almost as well as he careens, lickety-split, from top to bottom. But the downhill he won yesterday, by 51 hundredths of a second, established him as king of the Olympic mountain.
It was a victory that made waiting a day tolerable, for him and nearly everyone scattered along a course slightly less than two miles long. Even wimps sipping lobster bisque in the lodge could get excited.
Those of us at Bobtail did not mind the downhill being postponed 24 hours; winds there Sunday might well have propelled lightweight fans directly into Zurbriggen's path.
The gusts at Bobtail were 60 to 70 mph Sunday, zephyrs compared to the ones that kept the Zurbriggen-led Swiss and perhaps a half-dozen other skiers with a chance at victory off the course. Top winds at the top of the hill were 98 miles per.
Monday was relatively calm, and several hundred fans planted themselves at Bobtail at least an hour before the first competitor, Peter Mueller, charged toward us.
Kids slid down the tiny hills on garbage bags; some grownups glided over a course close by, skiing being a sport where novices can maneuver down trails only a few dozen yards away from the monster. Light snow gave everyone a good dusting.
"Why do I like snow here but I don't like it back home?" asked a man from Kansas City. Lying on his back, the fellow thought a moment and then said: "Oh, yeah, I don't have to drive here."
There was more than anticipation to excite us at Bobtail. Off to the right was majesty, less forgiving mountains rising above the clouds. A stand of thin evergreens framed the downhill trail, which was tighter than most fairways and began above the tree line.
The slope at Bobtail is among the most severe along the 3,106-meter run; Zurbriggen and the others would be going past us in excess of 80 mph. Our total elapsed time for each of the 15 skiers given a chance at a medal: eight seconds.
Skiing also has interesting euphemisms. When the fourth competitor, Michael Mair of Italy, wiped out at the top of our hill, it was announced that he had "abandoned the course."
Concern among the Swiss was an accident last week, when Zurbriggen was inadvertantly tackled from behind by a teammate during a soccer game in a parking lot. He was said to be treated daily, but finished second to Mueller in Saturday's final tuneup.
"I'm sure the Swiss will win," Mueller had said, "but any of us can win and it will be difficult for me to beat the others."
That was made more difficult by his drawing the number one, first-out-of-the blocks position after the postponement. Mueller had a preferred, back-of-the-pack start Sunday.
When Mueller had whizzed past us at Bobtail and his time (2:00.14) was announced, somebody said: "Post a score and make 'em beat it." That's fine in golf; not so always in skiing, what with the later competitors having the advantage of the course being harder and faster.
This area has a history of rewarding toughness, the village of Kananaskis at the bottom of the mountain being named for a Stoney Indian who survived a whack to the head from a war axe.
Zurbriggen hardly looks and acts the part of the steely-nerved downhiller, but admitted it was necessary to test "the limits" to beat Mueller. Behind the face of a choirboy are courage and concentration the equal of any other athlete the world admires.
He and Mueller are contrasting personalities. Where Zurbriggen mostly was quiet and unexpansive during a news conference, Mueller acted as though he was born with a ski pole in one hand and a microphone in the other.
Both answered questions in English, then popped off translations in French and German. At 30, with his second straight Olympic silver in the downhill, Mueller will consider retirement in the spring.
"But a friend said it is better to be old and fast than young and slow," he added, smiling. Zurbriggen, 25, said he will continue the World Cup circuit, of which the Olympics is a part, "but not as long as Mueller."
Mueller admitted finishing second cost him "some bucks." Zurbriggen ducked a question about whether this victory might have been worth "$2 million." With $165,125 in prize money, he is about $23,000 behind Italian Alberto Tomba, who does not do downhill.
Zurbriggen leads Tomba in World Cup points; their battles here have been keenly debated for months in most of Europe, if not Washington-area bars. The Bobtail gang mostly was naive about them and their passion.
"Slow," mumbled a friend of the fellow from Kansas City when the 12th downhiller had passed. "I'm getting picky." Turned out, Austrian Leonard Stock only missed a medal by 24 hundredths of a second. But then some golf fans get irritated when Nicklaus fails to sink every curling 25-footer.