On Tuesday the World Alpine Skiing Championships get underway in Colorado (USA) towns of Vail and Beaver Creek. From 1948 through 1980, no World Championships in the sport were held in Olympic years, with the Olympic races doubling as World Championships – except for the combined event. This event, which has been on the Olympic Program again since 1988, did produce a World Champion, but not an Olympic Champion. Who are these Olympic “champions”?
Gustavo Thöni (center) twice won the “Olympic” combined event, in 1972 and 1976. He also won three Olympic medals at these Games.
After the combined event was held in both 1936 and 1948, it was abandoned in 1952 to make room for the new giant slalom competition. But as it was still held at the regular World Championships (which were held in even years between Olympics), the combined event returned in 1956. However, it was never an actual event – no separate races were held – but instead conducted on paper only. Based on weighting factors and the time behind the winner of each race, the skiers were awarded points, with the lowest total winning (this format was later replaced by a simpler format with finishing times simply added up). Another difference with the present-day combined event is that it also included the giant slalom, not just the downhill and the slalom. From 1956 through 1980, the medal winners in these events were:
|1956||Men||Toni Sailer||AUT||Charles Bozon||FRA||Stig Sollander||SWE|
|1956||Women||Madeleine Berthod||SUI||Fieda Dänzer||SUI||Giuliana Chenal-Minuzzo||ITA|
|1960||Men||Guy Périllat||FRA||Charles Bozon||FRA||Hans-Peter Lanig||GER|
|1960||Women||Anne Heggtveit||CAN||Sonja Sperl||GER||Barbi Henneberger||GER|
|1964||Men||Ludwig Leitner||GER||Gerhard Nenning||AUT||Billy Kidd||USA|
|1964||Women||Marielle Goitschel||FRA||Christl Haas||AUT||Edith Zimmermann||AUT|
|1968||Men||Jean-Claude Killy||FRA||Dumeng Giovanoli||SUI||Heinrich Messner||AUT|
|1968||Women||Nancy Greene||CAN||Marielle Goitschel||FRA||Annie Famose||FRA|
|1972||Men||Gustav Thöni||ITA||Walter Tresch||SUI||Jim Hunter||CAN|
|1972||Women||Annemarie Möser-Pröll||AUT||Florence Steurer||FRA||Toril Førland||NOR|
|1976||Men||Gustav Thöni||ITA||Willi Frommelt||LIE||Greg Jones||USA|
|1976||Women||Rosi Mittermaier||FRG||Danièle Debernard||FRA||Hanni Wenzel||LIE|
|1980||Men||Phil Mahre||USA||Andreas Wenzel||LIE||Leonahard Stock||AUT|
|1980||Women||Hanni Wenzel||LIE||Cindy Nelson||USA||Ingrid Eberle||AUT|
Many of these are not surprising winners, as Sailer, Killy, Mittermaier and Wenzel medalled in all three events. Others, however, are not known as Olympics heroes. Ludwig Leitner, for example, did not reach the podium on any of the Olympic events, but did achieve three top eight positions. The 1972 bronze medallist, Jim Hunter, didn’t place in the top 10 in any of the three races.
Hanni Wenzel won both of Liechstein’s only two Olympic titles to date in 1980, and could have won a third one if the combined event would have had medal status at the time.