Bernhard Russi claims to have taken up skiing before the age of two and, considering his success while representing Switzerland at the international level, this may not be an exaggeration. His top-10 World Cup début was an inauspicious 10th place in a downhill event in January 1970, but just over a month later he was the World Champion in the event. Leading up to the 1972 Winter Olympics Russi won four World Cup events (including the giant slalom once) and the 1971 downhill title and entered the Games as the favourite. He did not disappoint, capturing the gold medal ahead of his compatriot Roland Collombin. Russi then won an additional three World Cup events, and the 1972 downhill title, but was unable to defend his World Championship crown and finished 13th overall. Nonetheless he entered the 1976 Winter Olympics and nearly defended his title, being defeated by Austria’s Franz Klammer by only 0.33 seconds.
Russi won one more World Cup event in 1977 and retired in early 1978 with a total of 27 podium finishes, all but one of which were in the downhill. Russi was downhill World Cup champion in the 1970/71 and 1971/72 seasons. In the overall World Cup his best seasonal finish was fifth, which he did in 1970/71, 1971/72, and 1976/77. Following his exit from active competition he took up course design and has served with the International Ski Federation as the chairman of the alpine committee and a downhill course technical advisor, which has led him to design several courses for the Olympic Games. He also served as a television commentator in his native country.