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If history follows form at this month’s Olympic games, a controversy is sure to erupt, whether it’s whispers of non-regulation skis or a suddenly strapping racer using pills to pump up. But nothing is likely to eclipse the dispute at the Winter Olympics 38 years ago, which fueled newspaper headlines around the world. Was a race jury right to have disqualified Karl Schranz—Austria’s greatest racer of the era—in the slalom, allowing France’s Jean-Claude Killy to win his third gold medal, instantly turning the handsome Frenchman into a skiing legend?
The previous winter, Killy had dominated the new World Cup circuit, winning an astounding 12 of 17 races, making him the heavy favorite at the 1968 Grenoble Games. He won gold in the first two races—the downhill and the giant slalom—leading up to the historic slalom competition.
On race day, thick fog enshrouded the course, occasionally lifting to allow a lucky racer to see ahead. Many officials thought the two-run race should be canceled. But the closing ceremony, with its television coverage, was set for the next day.
In the first run, Killy recorded the fastest time, but Schranz was less than six-tenths of a second back, setting the stage for the final run. Killy started first.
“At gates 17to 20, the fog was tremendous, Killy told me a few years ago. “I slowed almost to a walk. Schranz didn’t even finish. He stopped below gates 19 and 20, claiming that an official had crossed his path. He demanded another run. In his retry, Schranz recorded a combined time a half-second faster than Killy’s, but race officials quickly disqualified the second run. The Austrians protested.
As the crowd awaited the race jury’s decision, Schranz proclaimed himself the victor. Killy, meanwhile, sat with friends, trainers and reporters, drinking champagne to celebrate his two gold medals. After several hours, the jury ruled: Schranz was disqualified. France’s new hero had completed his gold-medal hat trick after all.
Schranz’s reaction was immediate. “If Killy were sportsmanlike, he would refuse the gold medal, he declared. The Austrian would never compete in another Olympics. Now a St. Anton innkeeper, he continues to believe he was robbed in the fog on French snow.