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The truth about the man behind Espace Killy

Fresh from rumours circulating about the demise of Jean-Claude Killy (he's alive by the way, it was a hoax), skiers to Val d'Isere in 2016 may have noticed a subtle difference: the absence of ‘Espace Killy' signage.

As Val d'Isere's shiny new website shows the ski area that encompasses Val d'Isere and Tignes, traditionally marketed as ‘L'Espace Killy', is now clearly called ‘Val d'Isere – Tignes'. No fanfare, no announcement, no hoo-ha. In fact – the total lack of fuss is distinctly un ‘Killy' like, a man as famous for his reckless behaviour as his skiing talent.

To a blaze of glory, Killy famously won not just one Olympic gold medal, but all three Alpine events, the Downhill, Slalom and Giant Slalom in the 1968 Olympic Games in Grenoble. He was only the second skier in Olympic history to do so.

But Killy noted "the season before '68, I won 25 races out of 30 -- it was a lot more difficult than winning three Olympic gold medals. But somehow no one noticed that."

Born on the 30th August, 1943, Jean-Claude Killy grew up in Val d'Isere. But at the tender age of just 7, his mother left the family for another man, leaving his father Robert alone to raise Jean-Claude, his sister and their brother. Who knows what impact that had on him, but clearly something gave him an incredible tenacity to perform against all the odds – as demonstrated in 1962, just 3 weeks before the World Championships.

Still attempting to qualify for the downhill, Killy was so committed to the cause that two hundred yards from the finish line, Killy hit ice and went down, only to pick himself up and cross the finish on just one ski STILL in the fastest time. He later discovered his other leg was broken putting him out of the World Championships in any case!

Other anecdotes show just how smart he was too:

“Killy wasn't just faster than the other skiers, he was smarter. Electrical timing by Omega was accurate to one-hundredth of a second. The starting official counted aloud, "3-2-1-Go" and the skier's boot moved forward to push a pivoting rod aside and start the timer. Everyone knew that the closer they got to the bar, the less distance they would travel. Killy, however, relied on enormous upper-body strength and outwitted his opponents. Rather than crowd as close as possible to the bar, Killy knew that he was allowed a 6-second window to push it aside. When the official began counting, he could trip the lever any time he chose from the beginning of the "3-" call and up to 3 seconds after the "Go" signal. Therefore, he rose backward, raised his body completely off the ground with his arms and poles, pulled his feet backwards, and propelled himself forward. Instead of beginning from a standing start right at the bar, as everyone else did, he hit the bar while already moving forward, giving himself a slight edge. This spectacular start certainly helped him to beat his teammate Guy Perillat by a few hundredths in the Olympic downhill despite ruining the wax covering the base of his skis moving over a plate of icy snow an hour prior to his start.”

Add to that an exceptional ability to focus and you surely have the core ingredients of an Olympic winner.

Beyond the Winter Olympics of 1968, what did he do? No shortage of things.

He had skis named after him; he became a racing driver; he dabbled as an actor with the ‘snow job' under his belt and after that a film with Jim Carrey; he was paid to be seen drinking Moet et Chandon champagne. He was the Head of the Albertville games in 1992, a long time member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), director of the Tour De France, a board member of Coca Cola France, Chief Executive of the Paris-Dakar Rally and no doubt much more.

Most surprising of all perhaps is the fact that he admits he hasn't skied since 1988. As a “100% in everything” type person, he clearly finds it difficult to do something at less than his best.

While his name might not adorn his early stomping ground any longer, it's clear that his spirit does and no-one will forget his Olympic triumph any time soon, least of all France.

Sources: CNN, Wikipedia, Arnie Wilson

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