First “overflown” by the austrian Uli Spiess
Every year, in December a Ski World Cup Downhill is organized in Val Gardena/Gröden. The “Saslong” downhill is one of the “classics” and renown all over. The length is 3,5 km, the vertical drop approx. 800 m and the racing time is slightly over two minutes. In 1970, the World Ski Championships were run on this course and up to this year already 38 world cup events have taken place here. The so called “Camel Hunches” are certainly the “key” to the event.
The Austrian Uli Spiess had just won the Val d’Isère downhill so he was highly motivated when arriving to Val Gardena/Gröden. He was determined to “attack” these three humps in a definite way.
It had taken fifteen years until a brave tyrolean ventured to “jump” them.
The idea hadn’t been new. Already in the seventies, right after the World Championships, the world’s leading downhillers harboured the idea of jumping the Camel Hunches. Bernard Russi, the World Champion, Werner Griessman, the Joker, Franz Klammer, later Olympic Champion, and Uli Spiess, the “nobody” from the Zillertal.
In December 1976, this “nobody”, a newcomer in the Austrian team, started for this first time in Gröden-Gardena, and right from the beginning he fell in love with the Saslong.
After wining the Val d’Isère downhill, he was highly motivated and felt strong enough for conquering the “hilly lady”.
Jumping had been his big passion for years. While studying the training video analysis in his hotel, he discovered that a big jump would result in a time improvement.
Uli Spiess had accomplished a thorough preparation. In order to obtain the right feeling for “flying”, he first tried the 70 m jump at Mayrhofen. Thinking this was not far enough, he jumped the 90 m at Wörgl. He wanted to copy the jumpers’ postures and find out the impact of a long jump. What he wanted was to be able to leave the edge of the jump in a long parable in order to achieve the longest possible jump.
“At course inspection friends and coaches declared me for mad when they learned about my plan”, he remembers. For me, the three jumps looked equally high as the Langkofel.
Uli Spiess, however, still wasn’t sure enough. He knew that a minimum speed of 120 km/h was essential to jump the hills. At the first training run, he was determined to jump, but ten seconds prior to the start he was radioed by his coach Charly Kahr “greetings – if I was you I won’t jump”. But Uli had already talked with his father beforehand who had encouraged him with the word “jump”. This recommendation was stronger.
It was a cold December day and the slope was extremely fast. Fast enough to enable Uli to approach the jump with the necessary speed. Lots of spectators and coaches were lined up along the jumps – they had been alerted by media reports of what was going to happen that day. He arrived like a bullet, barely jumped the first hill and right at the edge of the second hill flew away in a height of 6 – 7 meters above the ground and landed after an elegant 50 m flight exactly on the projected spot after the third hunch, continuing his descent in directon of the Ciaslat meadows.
He was the first man to jump the “Camel Hunches”. “A unique feeling”, he members, winning here about 20 to 30 meters against the Canadian Ken Read, the winner of the race. He is convinced that “without jumping the hunches I would have landed way back in the result list – I am certain the jump put me ahead of exactly one second”.
The Uli Spiess jump was later copied by other competitors. Peter Wirnsberger and Helmuth Höfklehner, for instance, did it quite successfully. Anton Steiner was less successful when in the eighties he jumped off too late and also Giorgio Piantanida was heavily injured – both had to be flown to the hospital by helicopter.
Gernot Mussner, 2003