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When one of the top American skiers on the United States team is hurt, dedicated coach Eugene Claire sends for replacements David Chappellet and D. K. Bryan. Chappellet is a loner, but he manages to stay on the team during the remainder of the European circuit, complaining all the while about his positions but producing some spectacular though inconsistent runs, even rivaling on occasion the best United States racer, Johnny Creech. Home for summer training, Chappellet leaves the team in Bend, Oregon, and hitchhikes home to Idaho Springs, Colorado, where he is no more at home than in any of the drab and anonymous hotel quarters on the tour. He is unable to communicate with his father and can show no interest in his old girl friend, Lena, whom he greets in cavalier fashion in the back seat of his father's old jalopy. Back in Europe for the season, he begins an affair with Carole Stahl, the secretary to rich ski manufacturer Machet, but is not distracted from his singular involvement with downhill racing as he wins for the United States a race that has hitherto been considered out of America's reach, and thus sharpens his rivalry with Creech. This time the American team returns home with some fulfillment of the years of hopeful promises, and Claire enthusiastically embarks upon a fundraising tour for the upcoming Olympic year. Back for his third season of major league racing, Chappellet senses the magnitude and importance of the Olympic competition as the race approaches; a quip turns into banter between him and Creech, leading to a hair-raising downhill race wherein Creech is nearly injured and Claire's patience with his prima donna rebel is worn dangerously thin. When Creech breaks his leg in the last pre-Olympic trial, Chappellet is the only American hope, but he bests all of the superior European competition with a dazzling display of downhill racing. Flush with apparent victory, his attention is called to the imposing mountain he has just conquered as word comes down that a faster run is being skied by an unknown; but a fall assures the first American gold medal in Olympic downhill racing and gives David Chappellet a precarious perch at the top of a sport in which the fastest is the best.