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Herbert Plank: Winner on the Saslong in 1977

On that 16th December 1977 the Saslong was icy and hard. „For me the most important thing was to get the starting bend right“ Plank remembers. He had the firm intention not to make any mistake at the beginning. „I wanted to gather enough speed for the long flat after the looping“.

His plan succeeded perfectly. At the looping the 23-year-old jumped extraordinarily far. „I must be fast“, he thought, „if I stay in the air for so long“. Plank was known for flatting his jumps in order to minimize the air resistance.

But this time it was different. In a deep squat he jetted underneath the Ciampinoi chair lift, and after 50 seconds he war steering towards the Sochers walls. A key section, as here it was important to keep the speed or even to gather more in sight of the following flat before the camel hunches.

With a speed of 125Km/h Herbert reached the camel hunches. There had not yet been anybody to fly them over, like Uli Spiess did later. „I had studied that section very well during inspection, passed them on the right hand and tried to curb wherever possible“. The hunches hurled him merciless through the air.

The little incident though did not bother Plank. Deeply concentrated he landed and flew on over the third hunch with top speed. „At the entry of the Ciaslat I chose a tree for orientation to get the following right bend right“. The high waves really shook Plank. „They were clear like glass. There was so little snow I could see the grass through the ice“, he remembers.

The last 400 meters: With a speed of 120 km/h the Italian no. 1 entered the long, sloping finish “schuss”. There thousand of fans were waiting, crying and shouting. „I could hear their cheering very well although I was so concentrated. A sign I was doing well. This gave me a huge motivation“.

Then the big moment came. Plank was in the finish, the was public crying, the crowd was raging. On the display a shiny number 1. „When I saw the one I was pretty sure I had won. I had started with bib 13, behind me there were no good athletes, after the first 15 the result would have been certain“.

For Plank’s victory the second place at Val d’Isère a week before had been decisive. He knew he was in a good shape, and his training results proved it. „I went to my home race with these positive feelings“.

But not everything was joy and happiness on that 16.12.77. After the race there was a rain of protests. One because of the timing, which was not accurate according to the Austrian team captains. Then for the size reduction of the bib: „My coach had cut the bib and taped it to my race suit in order to reduce the air friction“, Plank says. „You could just recognize the number and the sponsor“. A tampering which was completely legal as there was no rule yet concerning this subject.

By the way: In his great descent in 1977 Plank scored the same time as Kristian Ghedina 25 years later, 2001, when he won for the fourth time on the Saslong: 2:01.47 minutes.

Gernot Mussner, 2002