icans — that’s why the Austrians like them so much,” says
Can the creation of these big personalities be reduced to key
cultural differences between Americans and Austrians? Pepi
Neubauer, a member of the Austrian team from 1959-1963,
thinks so. “These Americans are cowboys,” he says. “From
the beginning, they had this American freedom.” He recalls
watching Buddy Werner snag the Hahnenkamm victory in
1959, becoming the first American to do so. “The Americans
are all about going all out, with a focus on the individual ath-
letes, with a few who have raw, awesome talent, and those
individuals have to give it all,” he says. “It goes back to the
American national identity of the individual.”
Where the Austrians are generally calculating, precise, and
formulaic — literally measuring jumps and distances on down-
hill courses — which is a good strategy for racking up World
Cup points, Americans have a reputation for laying it all on
the line, going for the win. This often plays well (or disastrous-
ly) at big, one-off events such as the Olympics. (Vonn is the
anomaly here: she goes big and consistently goes home with
hardware to show for it).
“Austria has spent too long trying to win the World Cup overall title and create great all-arounders,” says Klammer. “
Americans ski to win. Austrians ski to score points.” The Americans
walked away from the Olympics with eight alpine medals,
more than any other nation including Austria, which took four
(thanks to the ladies). As a result, the Austrians replaced veteran coach Toni Giger with Mathias Berthold, who is reportedly reorienting the Austrian team’s focus to be on the cultivation
of specialists and individual talent. Sound familiar?
“If you’re an Austrian, skiing is our national sport and there’s
this feeling that you have to perform,” says Klammer. “With
the Americans, there’s this easygoing feeling of freedom. This
American freedom — Bode is always out there. He isn’t as
calculated. He goes all or nothing, he goes for the win.” Like
Werner, Kidd, and Bill Johnson before him, Miller is the quintessential American cowboy, pushing the boundaries of human
athleticism, riding the line between blazing catastrophe and
triumph; laying it all on the line in the name of victory.
But back to the Rettenbach Glacier. “Soelden always comes
too early and the first race is always difficult,” says Hoedlmoser. Do you want to go out all the way or work your way
into the season and get some points?” Or, said another way,
do you want to race cowboy or calculated? The results are yet
to be seen.
Per Lundstam (left) with U.S. Ski Teamer Steven Nyman.