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When Klammer became “Kaiser Franz”

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The pressure was enormous. It wasn't just the whole of Austria that expected Franz Klammer to win the gold medal in the downhill at the Innsbruck Olympics on 5 February 1976 - he was the favourite worldwide.  

Klammer started the race on the Patscherkofel with bib number 15, the last of the contenders for victory. His run was like a wild rodeo ride. "The piste was already battered, there were bumps I'd never seen before," recalled Klammer in an interview more than 40 years later.  He was also the only one to choose a line that was considered impossible. "I had to do it, but I'm actually very proud of the fact that I was able to take the risk and remain flexible." 

Until the last intermediate time on that day, Klammer was behind the Swiss Bernhard Russi, who had won downhill gold four years earlier in Sapporo. But Klammer's gamble paid off. He set the fastest time and went straight into the history books. In the finish area, Russi grabbed him by the hand and raised his arm upwards, like a boxing referee crowning the winner.  

From that moment, Klammer became "Emperor Franz", celebrating a further twelve World Cup race victories in the downhill. His record of 25 wins remains unrivalled to this day. Even rival Russi once confessed much later: "I would have suffered if Franz hadn't won in 1976." 

Looking back on his Olympic victory four decades later, Klammer sees it as a pivotal moment: "I didn't realise before that a single run would change my life so drastically". Still, today, he loves skiing. "What could be better than standing on the mountain and skiing down a slope?"