Premiere Victory in a Premiere Race – Dätwyler (1969)
The same applied to Jean-Daniel Dätwyler, then Switzerland’s champion in this discipline. He won bronze at the 1968 Olympic Games in Grenoble, which also counted as the World Championships and thus ended an eight-year-long medal drought for Switzerland. That’s because the Swiss missed out on any podium placings at the three large events following the very successful 1960 Games in Squaw Valley. The World Championships in Chamonix (1962) and Portillo (1966) as well as the Games in Innsbruck (1964) all resulted in disappointments for the Swiss downhill racers. Not until 1968 Dätwyler, along with his fellow countrymen Willy Fauch and Fernandez Boachater, took home the noble metal.
Dätwyler was also leading the World Cup which was in its third year at that point. The pure downhill racer already placed twice on the podium and had several top-10 placings under his belt. “Looking back, 1968 and 1969 were my best years as a skier,“ says Dätwyler today. But somehow he wasn’t on anybody’s radar screen for the premiere race in Gardena-Gröden, even including his. But he felt in his element on the Saslong right from the start. The straight line was well suited for this gliding specialist. ”The snow was soft, which was optimal for me. The slope wasn’t very technical but made up for it in speed. The average speed was at around 107 km/h,” says Dätwyler who back then was viewed as the best glider in the World cup. Dätwyler started first and set a time that remained untouched by all the other racers. „The waiting at the finish felt like an eternity. Racer after racer descended but they all clocked a slower time,“ remembers Dätwyler. The Frenchman Henri Duvillard came closest to the winner with a 79/100 delay placing him second, ahead of Austrian Rudi Sailer.
Jean-Daniel Dätwyler grew up in Villars close to Montreaux in the Swiss Canton Waadt. His parents owned a mountain lodge and Jean-Daniel regularly skied to school. His career was pre-determined. Regional and national races were succeeded by his first successes in the Kandahar Series which preceded the establishment of the World Cup. A fourth place in St. Anton was his best result. After clocking the leading interim time he broke his skies in each race and reckons that „I would have placed gold otherwise“. Dätwyler skied in all disciplines in his youth even leaving Jean-Claude Killy behind in the Slalom. Bit-by-bit he specialized on the most prestigious of all disciplines, the downhill.
The downhill in Gardena-Gröden was Dätwyler’s first important victory on an international level. The experts could no longer ignore his name and that included the 1970 World Championships. He could not deny his role as favorite as the winner of the dress rehearsal. But things turned out differently: “The preconditions were good. I had a good feeling and was also satisfied with my run. However, the skis just didn’t go” remembers Dätwyler somewhat disappointingly. He started with the number four and as such was the test pilot for the rest of the Swiss team. Once he reached the finish line he immediately got on the phone to give orders to scrape off all wax from the skis. “We usually left a little coating on the ski, but it was the wrong kind that day.” The support team followed Dätwyler’s orders and Bernhard Russi, skiing with number 15, brought home the gold for Switzerland.
But the WC in Gardena-Gröden wasn’t the only disappointment of his career. In 1969 he was celebrated as the great winner of the Downhill right after the race in Kitzbühel. Two hours later while the champagne was already flowing, the devastating news arrived that there had been problems with the timing during the race. “It is still a mystery to me what exactly happened but it was determined based on TV pictures that Karl Schranz had been faster. His second World Cup victory in Megève brought some conciliatory closure to his career which terminated with the 1972 Olympic Games in Sapporo. Switzerland had emerged as the leading Downhill nation by then. The 27-year-old Dätwyler, still counted as one of the best downhill racers of the world, missed his spot on the starting list for the Games due to the strong competition within the Swiss team. He placed only fifth among the Swiss in the deciding training run and that is how he ended up as a spectator watching from the sidelines while his team made history: Russi became the Olympic champion, Roland Colombin second, Andreas Sprecher fourth and Walter Tresch sixth.
Dätwyler never regretted his retirement. “Back then the World Cup wasn’t as profitable as it is today and thus it was the right age to retire. My parents had since moved to the valley and taken over a small family-run sports equipment store,” recounts the father of two. The shop has since been renovated and enlarged six times, but still operates under the Dätwyler name as a family business. Jean-Daniel runs it along with his brother Michael who also raced in the World Cup in the late sixties and early seventies. Celine, the daughter of Gardena-Gröden’s first winner, also competed in the World Cup sporadically from 1991 to 2001. Today she is also employed in the store and coaches the young skiers in Villars. “I worked as a coach for some time - it is hard to leave a sport if you have been a professional athlete,” says the now 63-year old Dätwyler, who has turned his passion into golf. But in his heart he remains a passionate skier and one can see that. His old racing skis are hanging amidst historic pictures in the store and his chalet above Villars is only a stone’s throw away from the slopes. Even if the very big success eluded him, Jean-Daniel Dätwyler’s Olympic medal, two World Cup victories and a life all about the ski sport have turned him into a happy man.
Wolfgang Resch 2008