Karl Schranz: "König des Arlbergs"

Skiing in Austria - said to be a fun and chilling experience at the same time

The „King of Mount Arlberg" Karl Schranz was born in 1938 in St Anton, which is also the birthplace of Hannes Schneider and thus, of Alpine skiing in the modern sense. His career as a professional skier peaked in the 1950ies, and 1960ies, when he did not only become World champion in skiing twice, but also hugely popular in Austria. However, Schranz was also a bit of a tragic figure.

At a time when Toni Sailer had become everybody′s darling and pulled off his "Tyrolian-sunnyboy" thing with the media, Schranz earned himself a reputation as a serious and dedicated person with some emotional instability. In 1960, he suffered an injury and reacted by selling his skis, loosing a lot of money through gambling in Reno and becoming a Hollywood stuntman for a few months. After he heard that he had been voted "Sportler des Jahres" ("sportsman of the year", something like being sanctified in Austria), he returned to skiing and his native country.

In the following years, he fully recovered and continued with a top-notch skiing career that seemed to last extraordinarily long. However, when he attended the Olympic Games of Grenoble in 1968, bad luck struck again. After racing down the slope, Schranz claimed that he had been distracted by a race official that had been standing too close to the slope. He was allowed to race again and managed to win.

Defeats at Olympic Skiing

However, when the organisers of the race analysed footage of his first go, they could not see a connection between the official too close to the slope and the failure of Schranz - as a result, they disqualified Karl Schranz. This did not go very well with the general public in Austria. Especially since the relationship between Karl Schranz and some high-ranking officials of the International Olympic Committee was well-known to be dominated by tensions. The French skier Jean-Claude Killy won instead of Schranz, causing weeks of medial warfare between French and Austrian tabloids.

Four years later, things got worse. At the Olympic Games of Sapporo in 1972, Karl Schranz was banned from the games because he had been photographed at a soccer game wearing a T-shirt with a coffee advertisement printed on. Back in those days, the amateur rules of the Olympic Games were still quite rigorous in theory, but controlled very loosely and so the whole story stank like a conspiracy of some IOC members against the unpopular Austrian. Unpopular with the IOC, that is. Messing with a popular skiing icon AND coffee at the same time can elicit somewhat emotional reactions in Austria.

Don't f*** with Austrian Skiing fans!

It triggered not a wave of solidarity in Austria. Several IOC members receive death threats, the president of the Austrian IOC became the target of an arson attack, and a crowd of 10,000 upset Austrians welcomed Karl Schranz at his return in the streets of Vienna. Austria′s chancellor Bruno Kreisky took Schranz to his office (this should give you an idea how big a deal skiers really are in Austria) and the disqualified Schranz greeted the crowds from the chancellor′s balcony like a hero.

Nonetheless, Schranz retired from skiing this very year, seriously pissed off by the Olympic Committee. As sort of an apology, the IOC later gave an honour-medal to Schranz. Since 1972, Karl Schranz lives in St Anton with his family, where he manages a ski hotel that has his name ("Hotel Karl Schranz", most originally). He is the president of St Anton′s skiing club and involved in the organisation of ski events such as the Word Championship of 2001 in St Anton.

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Further Reading

Skiing in Austria

Hannes Schneider: Austria's favourite Skiing Pioneer

Austrian Skiing Legends: Toni Sailer

Austrian Skiing Legends: Franz Klammer

Austrian Skiing Legends: Hermann Maier