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Racing Technique

When Jean-Claude Killy made the French national ski team in the early 1960s, he was prepared to work harder than anyone else to be the best. At the crack of dawn he would run up the slopes with his skis on, an unbelievably grueling activity. In the evening he would lift weights, run sprints—anything to get an edge. But the other team members were working as hard and long as he was. He realized instinctively that simply training harder would never be enough.

Killy then began challenging the basic theories of racing technique. Each week he would try something different to see if he could find a better, faster way down the mountain. His experiments resulted in a new style that was almost exactly opposite the accepted technique of the time. It involved skiing with his legs apart (not together) for better balance and sitting back (not forward) on the skis when he came to a turn. He also used ski poles in an unorthodox way—to propel himself as he skied. The explosive new style helped cut Killy’s racing times dramatically. In 1966 and 1967 he captured virtually every major skiing trophy. The next year he won three gold medals in the Winter Olympics, a record in ski racing that has never been topped.

Killy learned an important secret shared by many creative people: innovations don’t require genius, just a willingness to question the way things have always been done.

Reader’s Digest, Oct, 1991, p. 61.