Downhill Racer

Has anyone seen this film?  Whenever I mention it,  I am met with blank looks. It was made in 1969 with an A-list cast including Gene Hackman and Robert Redford, garnered good reviews when released and seems to have sunk without trace in modern times.

The only person I have ever met who knew the film was Graham Bell, who mentioned it when we spoke in a Wengen pub one year.  He was in town making Ski Sunday.  How’s that for a shameless bit of name dropping.

The film’s plot centres on a maverick American ski racer and the thing is that substantial parts of the film were made in Wengen. Redford plays the principal character, based loosely on a U.S. team member from the late 1960s, Billy Kidd.  No, not Billy the Kid; try and keep up at the back.  Kidd was a difficult character apparently, but he won Olympic and World Championship medals and a few World Cup events.

The odd thing is that when watching the film, it is impossible not to think of another American racer, Bill Johnson.  The only point being of course that the film was made fifteen years before Johnson came to fame.  Perhaps he saw the film and thought “I’ll do it that way”.

Another American with a difficult reputation, Bode Miller, was something of a Wengen favourite.  He won back to back Downhills in 2007 and 2008 and then won the Combined in 2010.  I am not sure if it was that year or a few years later (time seems to merge with age), but on the Sunday of the Lauberhorn weekend one year I was doing my usual trick of leaving the village during the second run of the slalom (just to beat the rush for the train) when I found myself in the same carriage as Miller, his wife and parents in law.  Mr Miller was injured and not racing in the Slalom, so he too was making an early getaway.

He was talking about the Combined which had been run on the Friday.  For the downhill leg, he had been drawn to race after a slalom specialist.  The slalom skier was worried about being overtaken by Miller and at the start hut kept saying apparently “If you pass me, go on the left.  I will be looking for you on my left side”.

Is there any point to this beyond some more shameless name dropping?  Well, if anything it shows the enormous differences in the various Alpine disciplines; not many have prospered in all of them, though Miller was one so to do.  There, I knew I would get these ramblings back on track.

So back to the film. It’s a little slow at times, but worth watching all the same. It captures something of the day to day grind of being a top sports star; and it has Wengen, of course.

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