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Memories of Schladming

The 2013 World Championships kick off on Monday at Schladming. This brings back memories of my first ever World Cup race, which was also at this Styrian resort, exactly 32 years ago on Saturday - in February 1981. Number One in the charts that week was "Imagine", by John Lennon, who had been shot just two months previously.

I remember a lot of skidding, down a steep, icy GS hill - I ended up 7 seconds (per run!) behind the winner, the great Ingemar Stenmark. For me, aged 16, it was quite an eye-opener. My fellow Hillend (and Hans Kuwall) trainee, Davee Mercer, also competed in that race.

Later that week, a World Cup downhill was due to be held on Schladming's Planai course. The British Team had two spots in the race. One was reserved for Konrad Bartelski, who was close to reaching his peak (his famous podium at Val Gardena was less than a year in the future). The other spot was to be fought over by four up-and-coming British downhillers: Freddie Burton, Ronald "Boris" Duncan, John Clark (better known nowadays for his Eurosport commentaries) and myself. Despite being several years younger than my three team-mates, I managed to get the fastest times of us four in the training runs and qualify for the race.

Sadly, on race day the rains came and the downhill was called off; we racers got the word while waiting in the mountain restaurant near the start. The organisers told us that we were not allowed to ski down on the race course, to prevent the slushy surface from being damaged. So we had to ski home outside the fences - through thousands of beered-up Austrian spectators! "Why aren't you racing, you cowards?" they shouted. I'm sure I remember beer bottles being thrown but perhaps my memory is over-dramatising...

In the end, it would be nearly two more years before I would make my World Cup downhill debut; I missed the entire 81/82 winter due to a torn ACL in a bizarre accident - falling down a hole in an unlit garage. Fortunately, the British Team coach, Koni Rupprechter, kindly invited me to the 1982 World Championships (held at Schladming), to help carry jackets and relay course information. So I was there to see Harti Weirather's much-acclaimed downhill win. Can his daughter Tina repeat the feat this time around?

My happiest memory of Schladming is from 7 years after my debut; in January 1988 I placed 9th in a World Cup downhill which was won by Pirmin Zurbriggen - I was just one and a half seconds behind the winning time. It was the perfect send-off before the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

In recent years, Schladming has rarely hosted downhills, and has become better known for its night slalom. Coincidentally, the best-ever British placing in that race is also 9th - by Alain Baxter in 2001. Alain and I remain the only British racers ever to place in the top 10 at any major race in Schladming.

Will Chemmy Alcott, or Dave "Rocket" Ryding, join us in the next two weeks? Only time will tell.

MartinBell · 1847 days ago
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01.02.2013 (1847 days ago)
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Memories of Schladming