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Emile Allais

Martin Peterson
From Idaho

Emile Allais died two weeks ago. No individual who has lived in Idaho ever had a greater impact on his sport, although a close runner up would have to be Dick Fosbury, a long-time Ketchum contractor. Fosbury won the gold medal for the high jump in the 1968 Olympics. His revolutionary backward dive over the bar became known as the Fosbury Flop and is now used by virtually all of the world’s high jumpers.

There have been other athletes who have lived in Idaho at some time or another who have had major accomplishments in their chosen sports, but none with a major influence on their sports as great as Allais and Fosbury. Keep in mind that being great and having influence are two different

Dan O’Brien, a University of Idaho track star, won the gold medal for the decathlon in the 1996 Olympics and was called, at the time, the world’s greatest athlete. But he has had no apparent lasting impact on the way decathletes compete in their sport.

Two other greats were Betty Ellis from Clarkston and Barbara Peturka from Orofino who, fifty years ago, dominated the world of women’s log burling with a series of world championships.

One of the greatest rodeo stars with Idaho connections was Jackson Sundown, a member of the Nez Perce tribe, who won the all-around cowboy title at the 1916 Pendleton Roundup when he was 53 years old. Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, wrote a novel based on Sundown’s 1916 Pendleton Roundup appearance titled The Last Go ‘Round. He died in 1923 and is buried at the Slickpoo Mission Cemetery near Jacques Spur.

Two other rodeo competitors who come to mind are Dean Oliver of Nampa and Bonnie McCarrol of Boise. Oliver won eight world championships in calf roping and three times was world champion all-around cowboy. McCarrol was one of the outstanding women rodeo riders back in the day when women were allowed to compete in bareback and saddle bronc riding and bulldogging. She died at the 1929 Pendleton Roundup when a horse fell on her and that was the end of women competing in bronc riding. Sadly, it could probably be said that McCarrol had the ultimate impact on her sport, since her death led to its being banned from rodeo competition.

Another great Idaho horse rider was Caldwell’s Gary Stevens. He started his career as a jockey at Boise’s Les Bois Park and went on to win the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes three times and the Preakness once. His mounts have collected over $221 million with 4,888 winners.

Walter Johnson pitched for the Weiser Kids during the 1906-07 seasons, where he was said to have pitched 84 consecutive scoreless innings in one stretch. He left Weiser and signed a contract with the Washington Nationals (later the Senators) and became one of the first five
players inducted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was also named to the Major League Baseball All-Time Team.

And, of course, there was Harmon Killebrew of Payette. When he retired from major league baseball he was second only to Babe Ruth in American League home runs and is now a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Picabo Street, Christin Cooper and Gretchen Frasier, all from the Ketchum-Sun Valley area, all were Olympic medalists and, at various times, the best in their fields. Which brings me back to Emile Allais. I say he had greater impact on a sport than anyone else who has lived in Idaho.

You say you’ve never heard of him. I’m not surprised. He was 100 years old when he died on October 17 and his major impact on his sport was well before most of those reading this column were even born.

Emile Allais taught skiing at Sun Valley in 1948 and 1949. In the 1937 world championships he had won gold medals in the downhill, slalom and combined. In 1937 and 1938, he was the world’s all-around champion skier. But those accomplishments themselves don’t qualify him for having a great impact on his sport. But how he won them does.

Skiers of that era generally used the stem turn on downhill runs. Allais thought there was a better way to make turns and he perfected the parallel ski turn, which he had learned from a friend, Anton Seelos. It was a revolutionary change in skiing technique and soon skiers from all over the world were copying Allais. Allais was only in Idaho a couple of years, but he made parallel skiing the standard for Sun Valley and the rest of the world.

Allais was an accomplished skier by the time he turned eight in 1920. When he was 90, Allais collided with a snowboarder and broke his shoulder. But he recovered and continued skiing into his late 90s. Upon hearing of his death another skiing legend, John-Claude Killy, proclaimed that the father of modern skiing had died. And, for a couple of years, the father of modern skiing was an Idahoan.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

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