Snow Skiing: Jean-Claude Killy, the Flying Frenchman

Jean-Claude Killy ranks among the top French skiers of all time. Some say that he is, indeed, the very greatest. Born in 1943 in Saint-Cloud, France, Killy spent his boyhood in the traditional French skiing haven of Val d’Isere where he learned the fundamentals of skiing. As Killy’s skills improved, so did the equipment he used. The 1950s brought about a revolution in skis, bindings, gear and clothing, allowing skiers to go faster with more comfort and much improved safety. Skiers of Killy’s generation made the transition from wooden skis and rigid bindings to lightweight fibreglass skis, synthetic waxes and custom-fitted boots and bindings.

Jean-Claude Killy began to move up the ranks of the world’s best alpine skiers as he entered his 20s, and by 1967 he won downhill skiing’s World Cup championship. The stage was set for 1968. All of France was gearing up for the 1968 Winter Olympics being held in the French town of Grenoble, and they were expecting Killy to bring home the gold medal on his home turf. What no one expected, however, was that Killy would sweep the alpine skiing events, winning gold in the Slalom, Giant Slalom and Downhill events. Only one other skier has accomplished this incredible feat, and that was Austrian Toni Sailer in the 1956 Winter Olympics.

After the Olympic Games, Killy found he was a celebrity on the level of major movie stars. In fact, he actually did land a major acting role in the 1972 movie Snow Job.

The constant attention may have adversely affected his enjoyment of day to day living, as he moved to Geneva, Switzerland in 1969. Jean-Claude’s love for skiing was undiminished, however, and he has actively participated in skiing’s Olympic governing bodies. He was a member of the Executive Board of the Federation Internationale de Ski’s Alpine Skiing Committee from 1977 to 1994.

In 1992, Killy was co-president of the Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, and he has been a member of the International Olympic Committee since 1995.

In 2000, France rewarded Jean-Claude Killy for his many accomplishments and contributions to skiing by making him a Grand Officer of the Legion d’honneur, one of the most prestigious honor a Frenchman can receive.