Fiske finds hero status on the Olympic stage

A double Olympic champion who helped found Aspen ski resort in Colorado and was killed in action during the Battle of Britain in August 1940, Billy Fiske was a real-life hero.

Picture by IOC

Born into a family of bankers, Fiske left his native USA to study in Europe, making France his first port of call before going to Cambridge University in 1928. A very keen sportsman, he discovered bobsleigh, the event in which he would make his name, on a visit to the Alps.

Fiske was 16 when he was chosen to drive the second USA bob at the 1928 St Moritz Games, where teams were free to enter four- or five-man crews, with all of them choosing the latter option. The competition took place on 18 February, though the spring-like weather caused it to be reduced to a two-leg event held on a single day instead of the usual four legs over two days.

Joining forces with Clifford Grey, Nion Tocker, Geoffrey Mason and Richard Parke, who had all signed up for the team after answering an advertisement placed in an American newspaper, Fiske clocked a time of 1:38.9 in the first leg to lead by 0.01 of a second from Belgium I, driven by Ernest-Casimir Lambert. Skippered by newly crowned Olympic tobogganing champion Jennison Heaton, USA I were more than three seconds off the pace and found themselves down in eighth.

Heaton bounced back on the second leg, however, stopping the clock at 1:38.7. Yet though Fiske was only fifth-fastest in 1:41.6, his combined time of 3:20.5 was good enough to clinch gold, with Heaton completing a one-two for the USA and Germany II taking the bronze.

The youngest men’s Olympic Winter Games champion, Fiske would return to St Moritz many times, becoming one of the most expert drivers on its legendary Cresta Run and scoring a succession of wins there in the 1930s.

He successfully defended his four-man Olympic title at Lake Placid 1932, where his crew featured Antwerp 1920 Olympic boxing champion Edward Eagan, who in the process became the only man to win gold at the Summer and Winter Games in different events. It was after ending his sporting career in the late 1930s that Fiske went to Colorado to visit an abandoned mining town by the name of Aspen. Sensing an opportunity, he built a ski lodge and then a ski lift, helping to create what would later become one of the world’s leading alpine resorts.

The intrepid Fiske was also one of the first Americans to join the Royal Air Force on the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Flying a Hawker Hurricane, he was critically wounded in a dogfight with a German bomber on 17 August 1940. Though he managed to guide his plane back to base, he later died from his injuries. Numerous tributes were paid to him on both sides of the Atlantic.