Karl Molitor, the record winner at the Lauberhorn

Karl Molitor won the Lauberhorn downhill six times, but his first victory was a very special one. Karl Molitor was one of the greats of Swiss skiing. In the late 30s and early 40s, he polarized the ski circus in downhill discipline like no other.

In 1938, ski racers won the Lauberhorn downhill in the junior category for the first time. Only one year later, the first triumph in adults followed. Although Karl Molitor repeated this five more times and is thus the record holder, none of his victories was as curious and fascinating as the one in 1939.

Karl Molitor, the record winner at Lauberhorn.

The son of a shoemaker and sports shop operator, Molitor, who was born in Wengen, noticed his fondness for skiing at an early age. Already as a 13-year-old boy he drew attention with his participation in the Jungfrau jumping (ski jumping). Later, the talented Bernese Oberländer concentrated on the alpine disciplines downhill and slalom.

In 1939, Molitor triumphed for the first time at his home race in Wengen, notabene the most difficult downhill in the world. He won the Lauberhorn downhill with a whopping nine seconds advantage (!), which caused a stir throughout Switzerland at the time.

How did he do that?

Nine seconds ahead was also back then a lot at that time. The skiers of that time all suffered from the same problem: because of the Second World War, they often lacked international competition. The skiers also had to compete against skiers from the German Reich. The Swiss did not want to risk a German making the race after three Swiss downhill triumphs in the years before 1939. So, above all the teacher and the schoolcolleagues of Karl Molitor, somethought to defeat the Germans. That’s the legend. Perhaps they were simply afraid that “Moli” did not have enough potential to stand up to the opponents.

Anyway: The night before the race, they prepared a 150-metre shoertcut to help their friend Karl Molitor win.

The whole thing worked and came to nobodys attention. Until old age it was always assumed that Molitor might have taken a shortcut, but there was never any evidence, since at that time there were no cameras. In an interview with der Bund, however, Molitor at some point revealed the secret: “The evening before the race, our village teacher came to me and said that he and his students would stamp a shortcut for me at the Staubbachbänkli between two gates. He explained exactly where. The piste made a right turn, the abbreviation led directly to the next gate. In the race I found the place. But the problem was that my private slope was only one ski length wide. I could hardly brake and became so fast that when I got back on the runway 150 meters down, I fell terribly. I was lucky that the skis were looking towards the finish line when I stood again. So I skied on, and with a few sticks I was in the finish – as the winner with nine seconds advantage.”

In 1939, however, the only title remained on the Lauberhorn: Karl Molitor also achieved the victories in 1940, 42, 43, 45 and 47. The total of 6 victories at the Lauberhorn makes him the undisputed record holder. His victory in 1939, however, will be remembered for a long time to come.

After his successful career, Karl Molitor turned to his father’s profession and continued to run his business. In addition, he was active again and again in the ski circus and was part of the FIS Slalom and Downhill Committee for several years. From 1952 he was president of the ski club and race director of the Lauberhorn race in Wengen. He held this position for 35 years. The Swiss died on 25 August 2014 at the age of 94 in a retirement home in Grindelwald.

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