Hermann Maier’s 1998 Olympic Crash
In 1998, Hermann Maier was the favorite to win downhill gold at the Nagano Olympics. He ended up with a legendary Sports Illustrated cover photo instead. In the downhill race, Maier flew off course and over the heads of photographers, taking out layers of fencing and landing in a heap. He shook off the practically made-for-TV crash and walked away with a sprained knee and a sore shoulder. Just like his unlikely ski racing career—the former bricklayer was recruited to the Austrian Ski Team after he laid down one of the fastest times at a World Cup race as a forerunner—he came back to the competition to win gold in the Giant Slalom and Super G. The Hermanator cemented his place in ski racing history.
Kitzbuhel’s Hahnenkamm is the most notorious downhill race in the world. In 2008, Bode Miller bobbled over the Steilhang, seemingly on the edge of disaster. He recovered with incredible athleticism but was headed right into the fence. Somehow, he held onto his turn and, in a heart-stopping moment, skied on the fence for about 30 feet. The whole run is electric, and Bode pulls off a second-place finish.
Twelve years to the date after her first World Cup ski race, Mikaela Shiffrin broke the overall World Cup victory record with her 87th win. Emotions ran high in Are, Sweden, on March 11, 2023. Shiffrin took her always-impressive skiing to another level. She tied Ingemar Stenmark’s record, which stood for 34 years, then surpassed it the next day.
At the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, Franz Klammer brought a new style into ski racing. Until that point, a precise and technical style had dominated. Klammer’s downhill race run was wild from top-to-bottom. Viewers and commentators were left speechless, wondering if Klammer would make it to the bottom alive. This run is spectacular not because he won gold, but because he skied with palpable heart and determination. Ski Racing covered Klammer’s historic run in detail here.
Heading into the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, Bill Johnson exuded confidence, especially following his first World Cup victory a month earlier at Wengen. He hyped his chances at gold, even saying this about his competition: “Each of them is competing for second place.” When it came time to compete, his skiing for the medal demonstrated his mastery of downhill. The run flowed together like water — purely inspired skiing. Bill Johnson became the first American man to stand atop an Olympic downhill podium.
Moments after NBC cut away from the 2018 Olympic Women’s Super G, Ester Ledecka stormed the course to take over the fastest time and ultimately win the race. This made the Snowboard Parallel Slalom gold medalist the first athlete to win Olympic Gold in two different sports in the same Games: snowboarding and alpine skiing.
In 2015, Marcel Hirscher, at the peak of his career, was on his way to a slalom World Cup second place when a remote-controlled drone crashed on the piste behind him, missing him by inches. Weighing 22 pounds and plummeting from a height of 65 feet, the drone crash could have easily killed him. Drones were subsequently banned at all World Cup ski races.