Olympic Aspirations

By Beacon Staff

This is a mathematical problem that anyone who has completed an eighth grade math class should be able to easily solve: A ski racer in a downhill on today’s Olympic team will average 70 miles an hour from top to bottom.

Question: How far will they travel in 1/1,600,000ths of a second?

The easy answer is not very difficult to figure. This is how precise the electronic timing machines of Tag Heuer are for today’s ski racing.

This timing system is, of course, far different than what was available during the one year I was a ski racer with Ward Baker and traveling from ski resort to ski resort and living in the parking lots at the base of the mountains.

In those days, various methods of timing were evolving or discarded. The best way was on a hill that had wires strung from bottom to top and buried during the summer so there could be voice communication from the bottom to the top. Someone at the bottom would be calling “Five, four, three, two, one, go!” The starter at the top would release his hand from the shoulder of the racer and he could then start down the race course. At the same time the people at the bottom with stop watches would push the button on the word “go.” It was simple, but it somehow worked and I was able to finish in the top three in six different races that I entered at six different resorts.

If there was no telephone hook-up available at the top, a flag on a long pole was used instead. There was always some question among the timers as to whether they started their watches when the flag started moving, when it was part way down or when the pole hit the ground.

Within a few years more accurate timing was a requirement for any race. Starting gates had been invented and as we lunged out of the gate, a wand would be moved by your ski boots and the timing would begin.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Jean Claude Killy perfected the lunging out of the gate and that led to him winning 17 World Cup races in a single season, including three Olympic gold medals. It was not until a year or so later that someone figured out that Killy was able to have his upper body lunging almost out in front of his ski tips before his boots tripped the starting wand and, by then, the very precise timing clocks. Karl Schranz was about a ski length behind Killy at the finish of a lot of the races and never discovered Killy’s secret until after the Olympics in 1968.

In the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, Pepi Steigler beat Billy Kidd from America by four one-hundredths of a second. Pepi Steigler, in a speech at The Yellowstone Club in Montana said one night, “That four one-hundredths of a second total time difference in two runs of the slalom was the difference between me getting a job as the ski school director in Nubs Knob, Mich. or Jackson Hole, Wyo.” This was a very significant difference in earned income from that microscopic time differential. That amount of time in almost four minutes of slalom racing was less than six inches in actual distance. To miss that job as a ski school or winter sports director by four one-hundredths of a second is what drives all young skiers to aim for the top. And why not? They have not experienced enough of the agony of defeat to realistically assess their chances of being the best in the world.

In the meantime there are thousands of young ski racers out there who are in it because one or both of their parents might never have made it to the top. A lot of desire mixed with a dose of realism will make the journey a lot more fun no matter where you end up.

Just make sure that along the way to your chosen goal, no matter what it is, be sure and study arithmetic because everything in the world revolves around math, no matter how small the number is.

For more of Warren’s wanderings go to www.warrenmiller.net or visit him on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/warrenmiller. For information on his Foundation, please visit the Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, at www.warrenmiller.org.