- December 3, 1953 -
Franz Klammer is an Austrian retired alpine ski racer. He dominated the World Cup downhill event for four consecutive seasons from 1975 to 1978, winning 25 downhills in all and holding the record for the most victories on the Kitzbühel course. He also won gold in the downhill at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. He was born on December 3, 1953 in Mooswald, Austria. Born into a farming family, Klammer, like many alpine farm boys, skied to school each day in winter. His home village did not have any ski lifts, so as a child he climbed up the pasture behind his house to ski downhill. Klammer started racing at the relatively late age of 14, competing in the winter whilst working on the family farm during the summer after he dropped out of school. He had a tough struggle to make the Austrian ski team, traditionally dominated by the states of Tyrol and Salzburg. He made his World Cup debut at the age of 19 in 1972 at the Val Gardena downhill: he finished ninth in the training run for the race, but could only manage 32nd place on race day due to nerves. He spent 13 seasons on the World Cup circuit, from December 1972 to March 1985. Klammer has been married to his wife, Eva, since 1979: the couple met in 1975 when he was in Tunisia at a fitness camp with the Austrian ski team. They have two daughters, Sophie and Stephanie. Klammer won every downhill in the 1975 season, except Megève, where one of his skis came off. In the Olympic test event at Patscherkofel at Innsbruck in January 1975, Klammer defeated the defending Olympic champion Bernhard Russi of Switzerland, the runner-up, by nearly a half-second. Entering the 1976 Winter Olympics, the 22-year-old Klammer was the favourite to take the gold medal in the downhill at Innsbruck in his native Austria. He was the defending World Cup downhill champion and had won the three previous downhills in January at Wengen, Morzine, and Kitzbühel, and also the previous year's race on the same Patscherkofel course. Starting in 15th position, Klammer was the last of the top seeds and knew that Russi had set a blistering pace to lead by over a half-second. Klammer took heavy risks on the treacherous piste, skied on the edge of disaster and won by 0.33 seconds to the delight of the Austrian fans. Although he dominated the downhill event in World Cup competition, the overall title remained elusive, because the technical specialists had two events in which to earn points (slalom and giant slalom), whereas a speed specialist had only one. The second speed event, the Super-G, was not a World Cup event until December 1982, at the twilight of Klammer's World Cup career. At the end of the 1975 season, despite having won 8 of 9 downhills, he finished third for the overall World Cup title. The final event was a parallel slalom and Klammer lost in the first round. Klammer finished fourth overall in 1976, third in 1977, and fifth in 1978. Klammer won the World Cup downhill title five times: 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1983 – twice more than the next best downhiller. After his fourth consecutive season title in downhill in 1978, he began a prolonged slump until the end of the 1981 season. He may have been affected by his brother's spinal cord injury in a downhill race Unable to make the four-member Austrian downhill team for the 1980 Olympics, Klammer could not defend his Olympic title at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Rather than retire, he worked long and hard at a comeback. Finally in December 1981, he won at Val-d'Isère. The following season he regained the World Cup Downhill title, his fifth, followed by the 1984 victory at Kitzbuehel, his fourth on the Hahnenkamm. At the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, (then Yugoslavia, now Bosnia), Klammer finished tenth on at Bjelašnica. At his peak (Wengen 1976 to Wengen 1977), Klammer won ten consecutive downhills, including the pressure-laden win at the 1976 Olympics. He won 8 of 9 during the 1975 season and also won 19 of 23, 20 of 26 and 21 of 29 downhills. His career total is 26 downhill wins: 25 World Cup and 1 Olympic. His final World Cup race was in March 1985 at Aspen, CO. He retired from international competition at age 31. Klammer finished with 26 World Cup victories, 45 podiums and 87 top ten finishes (71 downhill, 5 combined, 11 giant slalom). Immediately after his retirement from alpine competition, Klammer took up motor racing, and was soon involved in touring car racing, driving Mercedes-Benz saloons all over Europe and racing professionally as far away as Australia. In 1990, Klammer won a round of the prestigious European Touring Car Championship. Inspired by his younger brother Klaus, who was paralyzed from the waist down after a crash in a downhill at the age of 16, Klammer has established the Franz Klammer Foundation, which benefits seriously injured athletes.