John F. Russell: Skier’s spirit far outshines crash
February 10, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs Alpine skier Jim “Moose” Barrows will long be remembered for a spectacular crash that ended his bid for an Olympic medal at the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France.
But he hopes people will remember him for the effort and not the actual crash, which was so spectacular that ABC used the clip, linked to the words “agony of defeat,” as the intro for it’s popular Wide World of Sports program.
There are athletes who would have been haunted by the images and the words, but not Moose. He sees the spirit of an athlete who was willing to put it all on the line in an effort to win one of the greatest prizes in sports.
“That’s the way I always raced,” Barrows said. “I wanted to win the race, so there was no holding back.”
At the time of the crash, Moose was just hoping to land an Olympic medal. There was no way he could have imagined that images of that crash still would be remembered 40 years later.
The format of the original ABC show, which ran for 90 minutes Saturday afternoons and featured two or three sports, came to an end in 1997. But Barrows will forever be linked to the show thanks to those unforgettable moments and the words of host Jim McKay.
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“Spanning the globe to bring you a constant variety of sports : the thrill of victory : and the agony of defeat … the human drama of athletic competition : this is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”
I grew up watching the show and still remember those words, along with the image of a gymnast battling to maintain her position on the balance beam and Barrows’ fall. But the clips featured several athletes throughout the years, and my personal favorite is the image of ski jumper Vinko Bogataj crashing on takeoff at the World Ski Flying Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany.
The sad part is that Bogataj and Moose’s skiing careers consisted of more than we saw on our televisions each Saturday.
Moose came from a humble background, and under the guidance of skiing legend Gordy Wren grew into one of our country’s greatest skiers. In 1958, he won the Rocky Mountain News Skiing Futurity Scholarship, which provided him with his first pair of new Alpine skis. He made the most of the gift – from 1961-62, Barrows won every downhill in the Rocky Mountain Division.
He was the nation’s premier four-event skier, winning several NCAA Skimeister titles. He still recalls that he was at the top of Howelsen Hill’s large hill when he learned that Jimmy Heuga and Billy Kidd had won American’s first medals at the 1964 Olympic Games. It was the final day of Steamboat’s Winter Carnival, and Moose was in the middle of a ski jumping competition and slalom race. The events took place at the same time, but that didn’t stop Moose from taking part in both.
In 1965, he qualified for the U.S. Ski Team as a slalom skier, but once he was introduced to downhill he was hooked.
“I loved downhill from the very first time I did it,” Moose said. “I only knew one way to race, and that was to race to win.”
Moose competed in the World Championships in 1966, he finished third in the first American World Cup downhill race in 1967 and was ranked seventh in the FIS downhill ranking that season.
In 1968, he was a favorite to win a medal at the Olympic games, but picked a difficult line hoping to make up time. The decision led to the crash and several seconds of fame on ABC that would last longer than anyone could imagine.