Austrian Skiing Legends: Toni Sailer

Austria as a skiing paradise also has a rich heritage in temrs of skiing legends - such as Toni Sailer

As much as Karl Schranz and Hannes Schneider are rooted in St Anton, Anton "Toni" Sailer is connected with Kitzbühel. Born in this Tyrolian town in 1935, he did an apprenticeship as a glass- and gutter worker. Kind of raised on some of Tyrol′s best slopes, however, it soon became clear that Toni Sailer was the right man to become Austria′s first skiing super-star. In a country in which ski professionals are still worshipped as national heroes and often make it into top-positions in politics or the business world after they retire from skiing, this means quite a bit.

At the tender age of 17, Toni Sailer had already won the Tyrolian championship in downhill, slalom and giant slalom. Only four years later, at the age of 21, he won unrivalled three gold medals in these three disciplines at the Olympic Games of 1956 in the Italian town of Cortina d′Ampezzo. Taken together, these three disciplines also counted as the world championship in skiing.

When Toni returned to Austria, he was celebrated like the Beatles a few years later: Dubbed the "Blitz von Kitz" ("Blitz" means "lightning" and actually doesn′t have anything to do with Nazi warfare in this case; it simply refers to Sailer supposedly being fast like a lightning). Further victories followed and Toni Sailer soon became an icon for an entire generation of young Austrians.

Austria′s first Skiing-Superstar

In 1959, he retired from skiing. Only 24 years old, he had already won more top-notch competitions than anyone before - or ever since. Since 1957, Toni had attended acting classes at a theatre school in Berlin.

In the years after 1959, he remained actively involved with professional skiing - as a representative of several national and international ski racing associations and coach of the Austrian national skiing team - but also started to become a successful movie star in tacky skiing movies. This typically Austrian genre, a mix of Alpine adventure movie, love story and moral tale, has its roots in the 1920ies′ movies taken mostly in St Anton. For a while, they were very popular in Japan, and Toni Sailer featured in several movies taken there.

He became active as a singer and produced a total of 18 records, mostly successful in Austria only. In 1976, he got married to Gaby Rummeny, who died in 2000. He is - still, as far as I know - the head of the children′s skiing school in Kitzbühel and the president of the "Rote Teufel" (red devils) skiing school of Kitzbühel, Austria′s most legendary skiing school. In 2004, Sailer announced his intention to run for mayor of Kitzbühel, but eventually refrained from doing so.

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Further Reading

Skiing in Austria

Austrian Skiing Legends: Karl Schranz

Austrian Skiing Legends: Franz Klammer

Austrian Skiing Legends: Hermann Maier