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CHALLENGING HISTORY IN KITZBÜHEL

Words: VITO ALBERTO AMENDOLARA - Photos: Pentaphoto

There are places that identify perfectly with the sport they represent. The Center Court of Wimbledon is the most renowned event in tennis, Maracana is the most iconic stadium in football, Monte Carlo the grand gala of Formula One. Skiing is certainly no exception and Kitzbühel is its unmistakable home.

Some even say that skiing was born in this Tyrolean enclave and, although there are no documents attesting the truthfulness of rumours, the legend of this sport has undoubtedly been forged below the shade of the Hahnenkamm.

A reputation recognized by enthusiasts from all over the world who every year, since 1931, colour the Alpine village in a crowd of contagious enthusiasm. In Kitz's streets, passion and excess mix, generating an electric and lysergic atmosphere. The noise of beer mugs clashing in the name of good luck toasts and the loud screams that bounce in every corner of the town are the soundtrack to January’s last weekend.

Going up to the slopes, in a short and pleasant walk, the railway tracks breaking the locality in two: ideally dividing the party from the sport, the fans from the champions. It often happens that you find the crossing barriers lowered and must wait patiently, together with a growing swarm, for the screeching passage of the train, one of Kitzbühel's peculiarities.
Yes, because the metallic rattle of the wagons is one of the keys to the success of the country. A rarity for Alpine resorts: the railway easily connects the main Austrian cities to Kitz, creating an ideal bridge for enthusiasts who can enjoy the spectacle of these iconic races just a few hours away.

When the barrier rises, the flow resumes its course, ending at the feet of the Hahnenkamm. Here the finish arch frames the famous Streif in all its majesty. Much more than a track it has become the very synonym of downhill and looking at it, it seems to have body and soul.

A body hard like ice, glistening and smooth, with its reflections, blue in the morning and silvery beneath the sun. An indomitable spirit, that of wild beasts, with its undulations, its changes of slope that open the void below, with violent diagonals able to shake muscles and mind.

Only the bravest can open the gate of the Sreif and whoever hesitates and fails to dominate it is thrown from its path with evident bruises all over the body. Our Dominik Paris, owner of the Tyrolean race of which he won the legendary downhill 3 times and the Super G once, declared: “Whoever fears it, cannot win”.

During just under two minutes of adrenaline on the Streif, there are many memorable and familiar snapshots to enthusiasts. Ready, set, go, throw yourself into the void: after a few seconds it is already time to fall into the mousetrap. The Mausefalle is an icy jump that throws athletes into an 80m flight, where the stomachs contract and the knees cushion a landing which could easily send skiers straight into the nets.

After proving your courage, it's time to put your technical skills to the test with the double steep curve of the Steilhang that leads to the Buckenschuss road. Here you cannot lose speed and equipment becomes critical. That’s why Sepp Zanon, Domme's trusted ski-man, maniacally prepares the skis that will be thrown down from the Streif, where every hundredth of a second can make a difference.

Then, in the last part of the race, comes one of the most complicated technical passages. Many people's dreams of glory have been shattered at Hausbergkante. A very steep diagonal where quadriceps explode with fatigue and scream in pain, the last and most complex test before taking the final schuss.

Crossing the arrival arch is a memorable human challenge all along, where behind dark glasses even a Terminator like Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot help but cheer in admiration. He is not the only VIP to populate Kitz’s parterre, but to be true, the jetset that animates the Streif’s stands is merely a supporting actor to the real heroes: athletes.

Turning on the green light in Kitzbühel is said to be worth more than an Olympic gold, holding the golden ibex in your hands is the adrenaline rush that pays off an entire career’s sacrifice. Seeing your name adorn the yellow cabins that go up the track is a collective memory to remember the heroes of the Streif.

Us, on the other hand, with our nose up in the pungent Tyrolean air or sitting comfortably in front of a television, all unmistakably feel the same: the most beautiful race of all simply implies reconciling with our sport.

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