That image had to remind me of Killy, streaking down the hills at Grenoble for the first, second and third of those incredible three gold medals. Jean-Claude had been there---to that rare high place where only the snow leopards live; and now, 26-years-old with more dollars than he can use or count, there is nothing else to match those peaks he has already-beaten. Now it is all downhill for the world's richest ski bum.
He was good enough---and lucky---for a while, to live in that Win--Lose, Black--White, Do-or-Die world of the international super TV athlete. It was a beautiful show while it lasted, and Killy did his thing better than anyone else has ever done it before.
But now, with nothing else to win, he is down on the killing floor with the rest of us---sucked into strange and senseless wars on unfamiliar items; haunted by a sense of loss that no amount of money can ever replace; mocked by the cotton-candy rules of a mean game that still awes him . . . locked into a gilded life-style where winning means keeping his mouth shut and reciting, on cue, from other men's scripts. This is Jean Claude Killy's new world: He is a handsome middle-class French boy who trained hard and learned to ski so well that now his name is immensely saleable on the marketplace of a crazily inflated culture-economy that eats its heroes like hotdogs and honors them on about the same level.
His TV-hero image probably surprises him more than it does the rest of us. We take whatever heroes come our way, and we're not inclined to haggle. Killy seems to understand this, too. He is taking advantage of a money-scene that never existed before and might never work again---at least not in his lifetime or ours, and maybe not even next year.
On balance, it seems unfair to dismiss him as a witless greedhead, despite all the evidence. Somewhere behind that wistful programmed smile I suspect there is something akin to what Norman Mailer once called (speaking of James Jones) "an animal sense of who has the power." There is also a brooding contempt for the American system that has made him what he is. Killy doesn't understand this country; he doesn't even like it---but there is no question in his mind about his own proper role in a scene that is making him rich. He is his manager's creature, and if Mark McCormack wants him to star in a geek film or endorse some kind of skin-grease he's never heard of . . . well, that's the way it is. Jean-Claude is a good soldier; he takes orders well and he leaves quickly. He would rise through the ranks in any army.
Killy reacts; thinking is not his gig. So it is hard to honor him for whatever straight instincts he still cultivates in private---while he mocks them in public, for huge amounts of money. The echo of Gatsby's style recalls the truth that Jimmy Gatz was really just a rich crook and a booze salesman. But Killy is not Gatsby: He is a bright young Frenchman with a completely original act . . . and a pragmatic frame of reference that is better grounded, I suspect, than my own. He is doing pretty well for himself, and nothing in his narrow, high-powered experience can allow him to understand how I can watch his act and say that it looks, to me, like a very hard dollar---maybe the hardest.
Tags: Hunter S. Thompson