The Fastest Sport On Earth

<B>Scott Pelley</B> Catches Up With Two Of The World's Best Speed Skiers

What's the fastest sport on earth without an engine? Well, nothing can catch a speed skier who can hit more than 150 miles an hour on skis.

Correspondent Scott Pelley talks to two of the world's best speed skiers, who have been rivals for more than a decade. Both have held the record as world's fastest man, and one, American Jeff Hamilton, is still the champion for the fastest crash in a non-motorized sport, at 151 miles and hour.

Skiing for speed is more like diving off a cliff than skiing: no turns, just vertical velocity, three-quarters of a mile in 15 seconds.

"Speed skiing is basically drag racing, you know?" says Hamilton. "Comparing drag racing to car racing, regular downhill skiing is two minutes, you know, terrain with bumps and turns. Speed skiing is straight down the hill. Fifteen seconds long. Zero to 150 in about 15 seconds."

Hamilton was the first man ever to push over the edge and break the barrier of 150 miles an hour. How does it feel?

"Every second, you're going faster than the second before. It's building, building momentum of acceleration. The wind is trying to rip you apart," says Hamilton. "The track isn't perfectly smooth. It's bumpy and rolly. So you're trying to hold it together, staying strong as you can and staying focused and just trying to make it to the finish line."

Why does he have to go 150 miles per hour on skis? "I don't know. I'm trying to figure it out," says Hamilton. "Some people say it's the speed. For me, I think it transcends speed. It's more of an addiction to pushing the limits of what humans can do. Speed is a component, pushing the envelope."

60 Minutes II met Hamilton in Squaw Valley, Calif., a fitting location since speed skiing started in America in the 1880s, when gold miners raced straight down the mountains near Lake Tahoe.

It's one of the only sports we can think of that demands the athlete hold his body as still as possible. Getting this tuck tight and right is the key because speed skiing is a battle with the wind.

"Once you get over 100, it starts to get difficult," says Hamilton. "The air is just putting so much pressure on your body and you're just trying to fight back -pierce the air and get through it as quick as you can."

"You talking a Category Five hurricane," says Pelley.

"Yeah, you are, you are, and you're not just surviving it, you're dominating it," says Hamilton.

Only a handful of skiers dominate, and Hamilton's been chasing one of them for years: Harry Egger.

"Harry and I came into the sport about the same time in 1990, and we've been battling, friendly, for I mean, literally 12, 13 years. We've had a great rivalry," says Hamilton. "In the Olympics, he fell and I got the bronze. And in 1995, I set the record. In '97, he almost had that record. And then in '99, when I crashed at Lazark, he was able to get his big record there. To get 154, I believe, it was miles per hour."

Egger is an Austrian who is now training for a new attempt at the world record. On a test track outside Salzburg, he slowed down just long enough to explain that when it comes to speed, he's got the bug.

"Speed is a virus," says Egger. "It's always faster, faster, faster. That's the life of a speed skier."

But to Egger's frustration, there seems to be a speed limit. For the last 10 years or so, speed skiing has been "stuck" in the mid 150s. To beat the barrier, Egger has convinced a sponsor, Red Bull, to spend about a million dollars to find the ultimate speed.