Field of Play: Celebrating our last king of Kitzbuehel | Skiing | CBC Sports

SkiingField of Play: Celebrating our last king of Kitzbuehel

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013 | 01:19 PM

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Todd Brooker, here competing at Aspen in 1983, is one of three Canadians to win the famed downhill at Kitzbuehel (Jim Kahnweiler/Associated Press) Todd Brooker, here competing at Aspen in 1983, is one of three Canadians to win the famed downhill at Kitzbuehel (Jim Kahnweiler/Associated Press)

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Todd Brooker, who is celebrating the 30-year anniversary of his victory on the famed Streif downhill course at Kitzbuehel, Austria this weekend by broadcasting the event for CBC, is a link to the glory days of Canadian alpine ski racing.
It's hard to believe it's been 30 years since a Canadian won the greatest of all ski races.

Then again, some legends live forever.

"My vision of the track, the line I had to ski -- all embedded with such clarity in my mind," says Todd Brooker of his 1983 victory at the famed Kitzbuehel downhill.

"It was the most important day of my life and the most successful day of my life. It had been a dream of mine to win on the greatest course in the world for many years."

Brooker, who is celebrating the anniversary of his victory by returning to Austria and the famed Streif course this weekend to broadcast the event for CBC, is a link to the glory days of Canadian alpine ski racing.

Four years straight, the unlikely "Crazy Canucks," as they were dubbed, won at Kitzbuehel. Ken Read was first in 1980, and then Steve Podborski followed up with two straight wins. Brooker completed the unprecedented and unrivaled string of success in 1983, and in a sense was the most unexpected champion of all.

"I quit high school after Grade 11, moved to Collingwood, Ont., lived with ski instructors at Blue Mountain and skied every day. I chased my dream, for which I really had no right to have such high expectations of attaining," Brooker reflects.

His father Charlie was an Olympic hockey player who represented Canada at the 1956 Games in Cortina, Italy, as part of the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen. The elder Brooker came home with a bronze medal and later went to Austria to become the player-coach of the Kitzbuehel hockey team.

"I wasn't from a private club family and wasn't really from a skiing family either -- my dad was an Olympic hockey player, my mother's two brothers were both NHL players and my brother played hockey," Brooker says of his background in sports.

"It wasn't in our blood to ski, but it was in mine."

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'Rag doll' crash

Brooker has since known the joy and pain of Kitzbuehel. As one of the champions at the notoriously difficult venue, he has his name emblazoned on one of the gondolas that reaches the summit. He revels in the celebrations that are an integral part of the event.

But in 1987, his fabled "rag doll" crash down the Streif threatened his life and marked the abrupt end of his competitive skiing career.

"Every good racer also realizes how dangerous this course really is. Maybe me more than most, I've understood that a simple run down the Streif can end in such painful failure," Brooker says. "Kitzbuehel only yields real champions, not accidental victors, and although it changes, it has never become easy."

It is the most daunting and exhilarating of ski races. It regularly attracts 60,000-70,000 spectators on race day. The downhill at Kitzbuehel is one of the most revered of winter sporting events -- one of the most fabled races on the face of the earth.

"I think of the event itself more like the old majors in golf because of the historical factors," Brooker says. "There is something way more important about winning a race where you are being compared to one of your predecessors who have walked the same fairway or been on the same course. Following the tracks of Toni Sailer or Karl Schranz or Franz Klammer in a race made important by them."

Thirty years later, Brooker has the same awe-inspired respect for Kitzbuehel and what the place means to the sport he loves.

"It's like walking on sacred ground," he says. "Because there is such risk in the attempt to win, there is also such a big reward for doing it."

Extreme danger

Kitzbuehel has become a word synonymous with the best in ski racing. It's the Super Bowl, the Masters, and the Indianapolis 500 all rolled into one. And because of the great tradition that accompanies the race as well as the possibility of extreme danger, the downhill at Kitzbuehel has the potential to be what sport ultimately aspires to be.

It's almost always thrilling, and those who stand at the top of its podium revel in a career-defining moment.

"It has meant everything to me personally, especially in terms of how I got there," Brooker says. "For me it means that anything, including winning the most important race on the World Cup, was possible because I wanted it enough."

Three decades removed from basking in the sunshine at the pinnacle of ski racing, Brooker must take great satisfaction in what he's accomplished.

By taming this wild field of play, he has become the King of Kitzbuehel. Not just for a day, but always and forever.

What's on Sports Weekend

On Saturday, CBC's Sports Weekend bring you two hours of coverage from Kitzbuehel, starting at 4 p.m. ET. Todd Brooker is on site in Austria and brings us a behind-the-scenes look at the magic of the race.

Rob Snoek delivers the play-by-play along with Olympic champion Kerrin Lee-Gartner, who will keep us up to speed on the legends and contenders that make Kitzbuehel the most anticipated race on the World Cup calendar.

Editor's Note: Watch CBC's live stream of the Kitzbuehel men's super-G race Friday at 5:25 a.m. ET.

On Saturday, watch the classic men's downhill race on the famed Streif course live at 5:25 a.m. ET. Catch the replay on CBC-TV and online at 4 p.m. ET.

On Sunday, watch the first run of the men's slalom live starting at 4:10 a.m. ET, followed by the second run at 7:25 a.m. ET.

Follow Scott Russell on Twitter @SportsWkndScott and @TheFieldofPlay.

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