The shocker of Vail ‘99: Australia gets its first and only worlds gold
No one saw this one coming.
In fact, when they gathered for the official medal ceremony to honor Australia’s Zali Steggall, the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships’ women’s slalom winner, they played the wrong anthem.
No one ever figured out which anthem was played, but it wasn’t “Advance, Australia Fair.” (Organizers redid the ceremony the next day with the correct anthem.)
In fairness to all involved, why would you need a copy of “Advance, Australia Fair,” lying around at the World Championships?
Before Steggall won the women’s slalom in 1999, the last Aussie to win a medal at Worlds was Malcolm Milne in 1970. He took bronze in the downhill. These are the only two medalists from the land down under in the history of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
Sweden’s Pernilla Wiborg was second and Norway’s Trinne Bakke third.
Best headline ever
To her credit, Steggall did have her moments during her career. Her only World Cup win came in 1997 in Park City Utah. She finished second in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., in December 1998. Both were in slalom.
Stegall did take bronze in slalom during the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. With that, she won the first Winter Olympics medal for Australia.
But in the run-up to Vail ’99, there was nothing to indicate that she would be a factor. In her final three starts before the Championships, she had finished 28th, 19th and was a DNF.
But, this, of course, is why they play the games, er, run the races. And history was made.
“Last year, at the Olympics, the bronze medal made a pretty big stir back home,” Steggall said. “It really captured the imagination and the hearts of a lot of people in Australia. It was so tough because where do you go from there. You go back to training and you work hard. It hasn’t been an easy season for me, but it’s worth it when you have a day like today.”
Perhaps rising to the occasion, former Vail Daily Sports Editor Don Cameron, a Foster’s beer drinker himself, decided on the headline, “Zali: Australian for gold.”
Steggall retired after the 2002 season and returned to school, becoming a barrister. She still skis, as was noted by the website, lawyersweekly.com.au. Apparently, some Australian lawyers get together each summer at Thredbo, New South Wales, for some racing and fundraising in an event called Lawski in August.
And, yes, Steggall wins that competition rather regularly as most Australian attorneys do not have World Cup experience. Steggall took this winter off from the event.
In an interview during Australia’s coverage of the 2014 Olympics, Steggall still cites Vail ’99 as her best athletic moment.
Since 1999, Steggall was a part of the torch relay leading up to the Sydney Olympics. Her success also prompted the Australian government to start to fund winter sports, particularly snowboarding, where the Aussies have had success.