January 29th, 1956
Toni Sailer was nicknamed “the Blitz from Kitz” and described as “the man who looks like a movie star and skis like a dream.”
The Austrian’s greatest achievement came in at the Olympic Winter Games of 1956, although at one stage it seemed questionable whether he would even compete. Three years earlier he had crashed badly in competition and broken his leg.
With medical techniques not being what they are now, the injury caused him to miss much of the following two seasons. Gradually he returned to peak fitness and arrived at the Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Northern Italy, in peak condition.
Sailer’s first event was the giant slalom on 29 January. Sailer was drawn to go out in 18th place and his team-mate Andreas Motterer, who went out early, led until then. Some fans even started to congratulate Motterer on winning gold, until he politely reminded them that Sailer hadn’t been out yet.
The Illio Colli run on Mount Falonia was formidable, snaking through 2,660m course with a vertical drop of 623m and 71 gates. Sailer made it look a breeze though, gathering pace as he went down and comfortably negotiating the obstacles.
His time was 3:00.10 – more than six seconds faster than Motterer. It remains the biggest winning margin between first and second in the history of Olympic giant slalom. There was even more cause for celebration as Walter Schuster finished in bronze medal position to complete a clean sweep for the Austrians.
Sailer went on to complete a clean sweep of his own at Cortina, winning the slalom and downhill. He remains the only man to have won all the skiing events at a single Games.
After retiring, the charismatic and handsome Austrian became an actor and singer, appearing in 25 films and recording 18 songs before his death aged 73 in 2009. However, he remained best known as a superhero of the slopes and was named Austria’s athlete of the century in 1999.