First, a disclaimer: I worship Jean-Claude Killy. He is the sole reason I started skiing. In the seventh grade,I wrote a profile for my English composition class that heralded Killy as the best ever. I knew the subject so well that my teacher first accused me of plagiarism, then gave me an A-plus. So this next sentence is a little hard to t-y-p-e:At the height of his powers, Jean-Claude Killy couldn't carry Hermann Maier's shiny red Atomics. In fact, Killy wouldn't even make the ultra-competitive Austrian team today.
Due to advances in equipment, training, technique and course prep, ski racing has evolved more than any other sport. Golf may have Great Great Great Big Berthas, balls with moondust cores and Tiger Woods, but Sam Snead's 1950 PGA season-long scoring record still stands today. Meanwhile, when Killy won the torturously long Lauberhorn downhill at Wengen, Switz., in 1967 he clocked in at 3:06.76. Carving perfect arcs on his super sidecut skis buffed with a hundred bucks' worth of fluorocarbons, Maier captured the Lauberhorn three decades later, knocking 37 seconds off Killy's time.
In Killy's day, racers had the bodies of runners. Dryland training consisted of a few short fall jaunts before the Beaujolais Nouveau came in. Today, Maier has the build of a linebacker and the speed of a sprinter. He lifts more weights in a week than Killy did in a career. The nostalgic editor at my left may poke fun at the Hermanator's Nagano crash, but at least Maier got up, dusted himself off and then dusted the field in the Olympic super G and GS. Killy, I'm afraid, would have just been dusted.
The French like to talk about how Jean-Claude hit an ice patch and lost his wax before the start of the '68 Olympic downhill, but still won gold. Look what Hermann did at Beaver Creek last season, when he ripped the inside edge of his ski from tip to tail just out of the starthouse. He tried to stay off the edge in some turns, stepped lightly on it in others and won the race by nearly a second.
Jean-Claude Killy is a class act and a living tribute to the sport of skiing. Hermann Maier is merely an ex-bricklayer and former ski instructor content to pump iron, pound pasta and do things on skis that no one else can even dream of.