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Franz Klammer dominated the world of downhill skiing during the mid-1970s and over the course of his career, he won an unprecedented 26 World Cup races. But his finest hour indisputably came during the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria when he dramatically responded to the pressure of the home fans and won the Olympic downhill by 0.33 of a second.
Not only did Klammer post the fastest-ever speed recorded in the event with an average of 102.828 km/h but he thrilled the skiing world with a display of extreme daring and determination.
Austria had not won a gold medal during the first week of those Olympics and local expectations were sky-high when Klammer crouched down in the starting hut before his descent. He did not disappoint. Cheered on by a crowd of 60,000, he raced at the limit, consistently flirting with disaster. Appearing to throw caution to the wind, he eventually won in a time of 1:45.73 and beat Switzerland's Bernhard Russi, the 1972 gold medallist, into second place. The image of his winning style that year earned him a special award from ABC TV for creating such dynamic skiing footage.
Klammer first stood on skis at the age of three and, in 1971, he drew world attention to himself when he won his first Europa Cup downhill race in Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria. Two years later, he won the downhill in Schladming and those two triumphs marked the start of his downhill dominance. In the 1974 World Championships, he won gold for the combined discipline of downhill and slalom and, during the 1974-75 season, he prevailed in every downhill race there was, establishing time records on World Cup ski runs across the globe.
He won all the most prestigious downhill races, including the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel four times, the Lauberhorn in Wengen three times and Val Gardena in Italy four times.
In the spring of 1985, he announced his retirement from competitive skiing but, still driven by a need for high speed and the thrill of a challenge, he took up car racing. He promptly went on to win the European Championship Touring Car race in the Nurburgring, Germany in a Mercedes 190.