"i Was Always Called By The Outdoors"
Killy's father, Robert Killy, was a Spitfire pilot for the Free French during World War II. At the close of the war, he and his wife Madeleine, along with their four-year-old daughter, France, and their two-year-old son, Jean-Claude, moved to the village of Val d'Isere, France, and opened a small ski shop. The village, historically a pocket of deep poverty, had been revived in the 1930s when a skier named Charles Diebold opened a ski school there.
Killy grew up in Val d'Isere, where skiing was a local pastime. He told Sebastian Coe in the London Daily Telegraph that he began skiing at the age of three, as did everyone else in Val d'Isere. "If you didn't ski they thought you were strange. There was nothing else to do, no swimming pools, no television. I knew nothing about the outside world…. I had no plans; life was simplygoing to school, eating and skiing."
According to William Oscar Johnson in Sports Illustrated, Killy often sped down a mountain, "pursued by a priest on skis, robes flapping, because he had cut catechism class." Killy told Coe that this priest "was probably the best skier I came across for several years, but he never caught me."
Killy's younger brother, Mic, was born in 1950. Shortly afterward their mother, Madeleine, left the family and moved to the southern Alps, where she had a relationship with another man. Killy told Johnson, "I have no explanation for what happened. We never really established a relationship after she left. It was very painful to find yourself at seven or eight, a little boy by himself." Although Killy's father tried to make up for the loss, he was unable to handle the three children, and Killy was sent to a boarding school in Chambery, eighty miles away. Used to the freedom of the mountains, he hated being enclosed in the school and felt like he was suffocating in the classrooms there. "I was always called by the outdoors," he told Johnson. He skipped classes often, hitchhiking back to Val d'Isere to ski.
In 1957, Robert Killy remarried; his new wife, Renee, developed a warm relationship with Killy. However, he still refused to attend school, and when he was fifteen, his father allowed him to drop out.
When Killy was fourteen he broke his leg at a downhill ski competition in Cortina, Italy, but by the time he was sixteen, in 1960, he was chosen for the French national ski team. That was the same year he heard about the Olympics; when he saw newsreels of the Squaw Valley Olympics, he realized that he too could become a world-class ski racer.
In the 1960-1961 season, Killy won the slalom, giant slalom, downhill, and combined gold medals in the French junior championships. His joy over these wins was tempered by sadness later in 1961, when he was driving a borrowed car, skidded, and overturned it on an icy road in Morzine, France. His best friend, who was sitting in the passenger seat, was crushed and killed. At the time, Killy did not even have a license to drive.
Even at a young age, Killy had a notably businesslike attitude toward skiing. He told Johnson, "I always believed that skiing was serious, that it was a way of living, a whole life." He noted that one of his friends was a better skier than he was, but did not believe that skiing could form the backbone of one's life. "He went down in the valley somewhere and began driving a truck," Killy told Johnson.
Despite his pragmatic approach to skiing, Killy was also reckless. His coach, Honore Bonnet, told Johnson that Killy was often in the lead during a race, but lost control and fell in the final seconds. "I reminded him that… if he wished ever to win he would have to arrange to also finish. But at the time I believed this young man had everything. Eventually I was proved right."
Killy won his first international race in 1961, after being ranked 39th; it was a giant slalom, held on his home mountain of Val d'Isere. Although Bonnet chose Killy to compete in the giant slalom at the 1962 world championships, Killy broke his leg in a fall three weeks before the competition began.
In 1962, Killy had also spent a summer doing compulsory service with the French army in Algeria, and he had contracted amebic dysentery and hepatitis. Although he competed in the 1962 Olympics, these ailments weakened him, and he did not place in any of the events he entered—the downhill, the special slalom, or the giant slalom.
Killy won the downhill and the combined at the world championships in 1966. During 1966-1967, he won twenty-three of thirty races, including all five World Cup downhill races; this was the first World Cup overall title.
After this great year, Killy considered retiring from the sport while he was still at the top of his form, but he kept skiing, with his eye on the 1968 Olympics. The 1967-1968 season was a bad one for Killy, who won only one of the six World Cup races before the Olympics.
Famous Sports StarsSkiingJean-Claude Killy Biography - "i Was Always Called By The Outdoors", Chronology, Three Gold Medals, Awards And Accomplishments - CONTACT INFORMATION, SELECTED WRITINGS BY KILLY: