The 1999 super-G was one for the ages
Editor’s note: Vail/Beaver Creek is hosting the Alpine World Ski Championships Feb. 2-15. The following story is part of a series previewing the upcoming World Championships by looking back at 1999, the last time the Vail Valley hosted the championships.
VAIL — A tie?
How can there be a tie between two guys racing more than 1.16 miles, dropping 1,991 feet at speeds of 60-70 mph and they tie down to the hundredth of a second?
That was the case for Austria’s Hermann Maier and Norway’s Lasse Kjus during the super-G at the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships at Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek.
Really, a tie.
What are the odds of that?
A golden tie had never happened at Worlds before, including the days from 1948-1980 when the Olympic alpine events doubled as the World Championships, dating back to the event’s inception in 1931 in Muerren, Switzerland. There hasn’t been a tie since for the top step of the podium.
(There have been ties for silver, both times occurring in 2003, in St. Moritz, Switzerland, ironically both involving Austrians. Maier and Bode Miller shared silver in super-G and teammates Marlies Schild and Nicole Hosp in the slalom.)
Lost in Translation
After the post-race news conference came the funniest moment of the 1999 Worlds. As Maier was leaving the press cabin, a reporter asker Maier if a tie “was like kissing your sister?” This led to a seemingly endless silent pause, as the Herminator had not understood the idiom.
After that awkward pause a translator explained the American expression and Maier cracked a smile.
“I have no sisters,” he said. “Only brothers.”
And Maier certainly wasn’t kissing his brother.
In retrospect, it was somewhat appropriate that Maier and Kjus tied on the first day of racing. (The women’s super-G the previous day was postponed.) The duo was the story of the 1999 Worlds on the men’s side.
Maier was the dominant racer of the time in speed events. He would win gold four days later in the downhill in Beaver Creek by a comparatively large margin of 31-hundredths of a second over Kjus. The super-G and downhill wins at Worlds made Maier’s status as the owner of Beaver Creek. Those wins were Nos. 2 and 3 of seven consecutive wins at Beaver Creek.
Meanwhile, Kjus was also just getting started. The Norwegian medaled in all five events. He had gold in the super-G and the giant slalom. He picked up silver in the downhill, slalom and combined.
No one has ever medaled in all five Worlds events. There is a short list of those who have done so when Worlds and/or the Olympics contested four events, the super-G being the last alpine event sanctioned in addition to downhill, GS, slalom and combined. But never five.
Can’t Forget Knauss
What’s really interesting about the 1999 Worlds super-G is everyone always forgets about the bronze medalist, Hans Knauss. The Austrian finished 1-hundredth behind Kjus and Maier. That was all of five feet — 1-hundredth is considered about 5 feet — from making this race a three-way tie for gold.
Meanwhile, Vail’s Chad Fleischer had the best performance of an American during Vail ’99. He finished sixth on this day, thrilling the locals. The U.S. Ski Team, which went without a medal in 1999, was between generations, hosting Worlds for only the third time (Aspen, 1950 and Vail, 1989.) In the super-G, a youngster named Daron Rahlves finished 13th. The future speed star was 26 at the time. Young Master Bode, 22, was 26th.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.