I’ m not really complaining, I know that besides the seconds that divide a victory from an anonymous placing, what’ s really counts is that you give your best and for the right reasons. My body and weight didn’ t meet the standards for what it takes to be able to do well in certain areas of the slope and once you hit 100 kph it’ s not only about technique. Once again, I’ m not complaining about my career nor about the slope that is undoubtably one of the most outstanding in the World Cup circuit.
This was proven back in 1967 when the FIS Congress met in Beirut and decided to give Val Gardena the opportunity to host the 1970 World Championships. The men who were in charge of that race (Hermann Nogler, Edmund Dellago, “Tschucky” Kerschbaumer, Erich Demetz) chose a strip of land from the top of Ciampinoi down to Ruaccia as the ideal place for downhill races. Demetz and Nogler worked on the design of the circuit and since parts of it were to pass through the woods, some trees had to be cut down as well as landscaping projects which resulted in changing the area’ s aspect. The “Green” movement was quite strong in the valley and a petition against the slope’ s development was distributed and collected 400 signatures. Ironically, if you look at photos from back then, you can clearly see that the forest was not as lush as it is today. I’ ve only heard stories about that formidable period of the environmental debate because I was busy trying to be born. I also know that the new slope was completed in 1968 and was baptised Saslong in honour of the magnificent Dolomite mountain range that dominates our valley. The race course is fast, precipitous and breath- taking. It starts from the top of Ciampinoi at 2249m to the arrival at Ruaccia at 1410m (vertical drop: 839 m). The total length of the circuit is 3446m.
During the first World Cup race on 14 February 1969, 36 gates were set up along the slope. Jean Daniel Daetwyler from Switzerland won that race followed by French skier Henri Duvillard, after which Saslong became an icon for downhill speed racing. The championships in 1970 took on a whole new aspect thanks to Bernard Russi who won the gold and revealed the high-tech features of this new route while others (Karl Schranz) tended to criticise by saying that it wasn’ t challenging enough yet required all the qualities an experienced skier possesses: a sense of the trajectory, speed and fluidity. Besides a few minor touch ups, the Saslong has remained the same.
By looking through old registers of Saslong, it undoubtably deserves to be called an icon and proudly stand among other great slopes like Streif and Lauberhorn. During the last three decades, it has awarded some of the greatest downhill skiers, i.e. the stylish Bernhard Russi and “sledders Patrick Ortlieb and Peter Müller, the undisputed König Franz Klammer (four times), the outsider Urs Räber, Pirmin Zurbriggen and of course Collumbin “the Bomb”. Sepp Walcher and Harti Weirather also found gratification on the Saslong and Canadian skier Rob Boyd, who won two times in a row claims that the Saslong is “his” slope. The same can be said for my good friend Kristian Ghedina who has had a total of twelve victories, four of which were claimed on Saslong (precisely one out of three), the first in 1996 and the most recent in 2001. This is without taking into consideration that Saslong always brings out the best in him and is where he started his career in 1989 when he stood on the podium for the first time behind Pirmin Zurbriggen and Franz Heinzer. It’ s a question of affinity: the history of the downhill is full of stories about that mysterious feeling between the athlete and the course that reveals the unique qualities of each and every one.
Personally, my highest placing at the Saslong was 13, I could be the perfect example to prove the saying “nemo profeta in patria”, which means that you’ re never really as brilliant on your own turf as you are far away from it.
Peter Runggaldier, 2004