Gene Hackman did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Eugene Claire in Downhill Racer.
Gene Hackman in 1969 was still in his role as basically a known character actor since he was Oscar nominated for Bonnie and Clyde, but he did not become a star until his Oscar winning role for The French Connection. His status seemed set particularly clear since he was nominated for I Never Sang For My Father for best supporting actor even though he was obviously lead. Anyway Hackman technically is in his reduced role so to speak as Eugene Claire who is the head coach of the American team. Hackman does not have a great deal of screen time, even though he is sprinkled throughout the film. Hackman is great in his first scenes as he does not play Eugene as the traditional sort of inspirational, not even in a slightly atypical way like he would later do in Hoosiers, because he's not even necessarily all the inspirational so to speak. In his first scene Hackman presents Eugene as very much a coach with a mission to find the best. Hackman is terrific in the way he coneys the way in his manner that Eugene is watching for talent as he observes them, he is looking for the best rather simply wanting all of those under him to succeed necessarily.
Hackman's great in realizing essentially the very down to earth nature of this coach and he feels particularly genuine as he hands at the starting numbers to the team members. Hackman is good as he shows the no nonsense approach of Eugene as gives them out. He offers moments of comfort of sorts though Hackman plays these well as more of him trying to set the record straight in that they must earn their position, rather than actually apologizing to them. Hackman's especially effective in his early confrontation with Redford's David who's upset that he had a low placement but ended up doing rather well. Hackman conveys well the complexity of the task of the coach as he does suggest the earnestness of his support as he says he'll fight for David to have a higher place, though carries a certain coldness as he also bluntly attempts to take down David's ego. Hackman is remarkable here because without only a few scenes early on he makes a considerable impact, and manages to portray the method of Eugene's coaching in an incredibly efficient way.
Hackman does not let a moment pass by to simply coast by with the character as he always attempts just to make the character frankly a bit more lived in. Hackman does particularly well in the scenes where Eugene is being interviewed. Hackman's, in obviously he more important interviews, projects an expected although understated enthusiasm as he creates the sense that Eugene is selling his team as he should. When the interviewer holds less importance though Hackman's good in portraying the reduced enthusiasm of the man, with a certain whole exasperation suggesting that Eugene probably has had to do a few too many interviews in his time. Hackman importantly portrays the greatest determination, almost that of a pitchman, as he puts all the passion behind basically the backers of the team, as he is clearly putting it in his all to ensure he is able to get the funds needed to compete the way he wants. Hackman brings the depth into the part with all these different sides that always are so naturally transitioned by him. He's great in one scene where he calmly chews out David again, and Hackman is tremendous in the incisiveness he brings as he calls David out on his reckless behavior. Of course then at the end of the film he does support him and Hackman makes this feel just as genuine particularly his jubilation when it seems he's won the race. What I love is how he contradicts himself yet never feels false or even hypocritical in the role. He is absolutely convincing in every side of the character showing what it takes to be an Olympic coach. It's amazing just how compelling Hackman is here. This work is a great testament to his talent as he effortlessly realizes his character, I'd say considerably better than Redford's does for his despite having much more material at his disposal, in the margins of the film.