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Toni Sailer dies in Innsbruck


Toni Sailer, one of the greatest alpine skiers of all time and for many years the head coach of Whistler's Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camp, died Monday in Innsbruck, Austria after a long illness.

He was 73.

Sailer won more than 170 major ski races and helped shape Austria's image as a skiing nation. At the 1956 Olympics in Cortina, Italy Sailer became the first skier to win all three alpine gold medals at a Winter Olympics. He won the giant slalom by 6.2 seconds - the largest margin of victory in the history of Olympic alpine skiing. He also won both the slalom and downhill at Cortina by multiple seconds.

As well as his Olympic victories, Sailer collected seven world championship gold medals and one silver.

He retired from competition in 1959 at the age of 23 and went on to become a film and singing star, playing the leading role in more than 20 movies.

In the late 1960s Sailer was recruited by Roy Ferris and Allan White, owners of the Highland Lodge, to lead the summer ski camp they organized on Whistler Mountain. For more than a decade Sailer spent his summers in Whistler, coaching young ski racers at the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camp. Nancy Greene Raine, French innovator Patrick Russel, Greg Lee and freestyle legend Wayne Wong were some of the camp's coaching staff.

Alex Douglas worked at the camp each summer starting in 1972.

"You had this guy - one of the better skiers in the world - just hanging out with a few people on the glacier," Douglas recalled. "I think he really enjoyed it. He was away from the politics of the Austrian ski team."

Douglas said Sailer was responsible for one of his favourite quotes.

"We went up one day and it was just miserable - pouring rain, everyone was wet. I guess we were on a bit of a coffee break and Toni looks around and he says: 'Life in the mountains is tough - it's not impossible, but it's tough."

Sailer married his first wife, Gaby Rummeny, in Vancouver in 1976. They had a son, Florian. Years after Rummeny's death Sailer married Hedwig Fischer.

Sailer also produced Toni Sailer skis in Canada during the early 1970s and served as technical director of the Austrian Ski Federation between 1972 and 1976. For many years Sailer was the race director of the prestigious Hahnenkamm downhill in his hometown of Kitzbühel.

Sailer was awarded the Olympic Order by the International Olympic Committee in 1985. In 1999, he was honored as Austria's sportsman of the century.

Born Anton Engelbert Sailer in Kitzbühel in 1935, he was trained as a glazier and tin smith.

Four-time World Cup overall champion Hermann Maier said he would never forget his encounters with Sailer and admired the way he dealt with his unidentified illness.

"Toni did great things for Austria and for skiing as a sport," Maier told the Austria Press Agency.