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Cortina d'Ampezzo 1956

In 1956, there were three Olympic Games and OMEGA was the Official Timekeeper at each one. The strict quarantine laws for horses in Australia meant that, as well as the Olympic Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo and the Olympic Games in Melbourne, the Olympic Equestrian Games were held in Stockholm.

ANECDOTE

"The black blitz from kitz"

"When fractions of a second are decisive in competitions between the sporting elite of all countries and races, official times must be beyond all doubt.” This message appeared in full-page advertisements placed by OMEGA during the 1956 Olympic Winter Games.

Yet in Cortina d’Ampezzo, a young plumber’s assistant from Kitzbühel did not deal in fractions of a second: he beat his competitors in the giant slalom, slalom and downhill events by 6.2, 4.0 and 3.5 seconds respectively. Toni Sailer (born 17 November 1935) won three Olympic and four World Championship titles – the Alpine combined was only classified as a World Championship – by margins that had never previously and have never since been recorded.

In the whole of the previous winter, Sailer had only lost once in the giant slalom, his favourite discipline. “But in Cortina I was having a few doubts. I had broken two pairs of skis in training. There was not much snow on the ground, it was making a rumbling noise and there were some stretches where a mistake could have been fatal. I was starting at number 18,” he re - members. “When I heard my time at the finishing line, I thought at first that they had got it wrong by 10 seconds. I could never guess my time, anyway. I could only assess my performance on the basis of speed and distance. If I negotiated a bend rather more widely than usual, I knew that I must be going fast.” He had been quick on the Faloria. The time that had been announced was correct. “Toni’s performance today was unbelievable,” said his club mate Anderl Molterer, who was initially not too happy about his silver medal. “We can’t beat this Sailer any more,” said another Austrian, Walter Schuster, who finished third, 7.1 seconds behind.

Schuster’s prediction was proved correct. Sailer won the other disciplines convincingly as well. “The conditions remained extremely difficult, making it more dangerous, especially as there were no safety nets as there are today, and so the time differences were greater,” he said, explaining the margins of his victories.

Sailer was the youngest Olympic Alpine skiing champion. He continued his run of success two years later at the World Championships in Bad Gastein. Only his fellow Austrian Josl Rieder managed to beat him in the slalom in 1958. With ten World Championship titles and three Olympic golds, the “Blitz from Kitz”, as he was nicknamed, retired at the age of 22. “I have achieved everything, why should I carry on?” he said to himself.

He denied that he wanted to avoid possible disqualification. Sailer had already embarked on a film career as a skier. “The Black Blitz from Kitz” was his second film, but it was too much for the custodians of amateurism. In the film, he did not ski, but used waterskis. Toni Sailer appeared in more than 30 films, released records, was head coach of the Austrian Alpine skiers and was awarded the Olympic Order in 1985, when times had changed. He did not retire from his role as chief of the Hahnenkamm ski race in his home town of Kitzbühel until he was 70. Sailer, who had become an icon, remarried there after his first wife died.

TECHNOLOGY

2,475 kg of timekeeping equipment makes long boat journey

2,475 kg of equipment was packed into 42 boxes and shipped in August in order to arrive in Melbourne in time for the opening of the 1956 Olympic Games on 22 November. The timekeeping devices were insured for a sum of CHF 1 million, such was the volume and sophistication of the equipment.

At the Winter Games, starting gates were used for the first time in Alpine skiing. The start time was automatically triggered by an acoustic and optical (red-orange-green) starting signal. Skiers were allowed to set off between 0.5 seconds before and 1 second after the acoustic signal. A new innovation for spectators at the finishing line was the running time. The same acoustic starting procedure was used at the Equestrian Games.


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