Column: Shiffrin and the legacy of Buddy Werner
December 3, 2015
When Mikaela Shiffrin won the World Cup slalom by a record-setting margin Saturday, the incredible victory conjured up deep-rooted memories for longtime ski-racing fans.
Who wins a top international ski race by 3.07 seconds?
What American ski racer?
One name surfaced, a name often overlooked in Colorado ski-racing history.
The great Buddy Werner of Steamboat Springs, one of the most versatile skiers ever, was renowned in his day for winning big or crashing.
Bob Beattie, the longtime Aspenite and father of modern ski racing in America, recalled Buddy Werner with delight as he watched the Aspen World Cup races from the media center at the St. Regis Hotel.
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"Buddy was the greatest. The best American," said Beattie, who coached Werner at the University of Colorado in the 1950s. "You know, he was also a good ski jumper. Yeah, he jumped for me at CU," said Beattle, who headed the powerhouse University of Colorado ski team before taking over the U.S. Ski Team.
Beattie said that Werner not only raced in the alpine events as a collegian, he also competed in cross country and ski jumping — one of the original so-called four-way skiers.
Werner made the U.S. Olympic Team on four occasions — 1956, 1960 and 1964.
He was the highest-finishing American as a teenager in 1956, finishing 11th in Cortina, Italy.
Werner, in 1956, joined his sister Skeeter Werner on the U.S. Olympic team.
He won the iconic Hahnenkamm, one of only two Americans to do so. Daron Rahlves was the other in 2003.
With soaring Olympic hopes for Squaw Valley in 1960, Werner was poised for more glory. But he suffered a broken leg in a training accident in Aspen in December of 1959, just a month before the Olympic Games.
He returned for the 1964 Olympics alongside teammates Billy Kidd and Jimmy Huega.
In 1958, Werner excelled at the world championships, finishing fourth in slalom and fifth in GS.
He would have won the overall, but he crashed near the finish of the downhill. He lost a pole but scrambled across the line in 37th place.
After he retired from racing, Werner was signed to ski in a Willy Bogner ski film. On April 12, 1964, Buddy Werner was killed in an avalanche near St. Moritz.
He's buried in his hometown of Steamboat Springs, in the town cemetery located the base of Howelson Hill.
Bob Beattie was one of his pallbearers.
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