The Worlds have grown a lot in 84 years | VailDaily.com

The Worlds have grown a lot in 84 years

Steve Knowlton races in the downhill in the 1950 Alpine Ski World Championships in Aspen.
Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum | Special to the Weekly |

Worlds history

Events

Downhill (started 1931).

Slalom (1931).

Combined (1932-1948; 1954-present).

• Paper race until 1982; Independent event consisted of one downhill and two slaloms.

• Super-combined introduced in 2007 — One run of slalom, instead of two.

Giant slalom (1950).

Super-G (1987).

Hosts with the most

St. Moritz, Switzerland, four times, 1934, 1948, 1974, 2003. Will host in 2017.

Innsbruck, Austria, four times, 1933, 1936, 1964, 1976.

Vail and Beaver Creek are hosting for the third time (1989 and 1999).

Note: From 1948-1980, the Winter Olympics doubled at the World Championships.

Most medals, career

Men

Kjetil Andre Aamodt, Norway, 12.

Marc Girardelli, Luxembourg, and Lasse Kjus, Norway, 11.

Pirmin Zubbriggen, Switzerland, 9.

Women

Christl Cranz, Germany, 15.

Marielle Goistchel, France, and Anja Paerson, Sweden, 11.

Annemarie Moser-Proell, Austria, and Janni Wenzel, Liechtenstein, 9.

Americans

Bode Miller, Ted Ligety, Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso, 5.

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 World Championships.

More than 70 nations and hundreds of athletes will descend upon Beaver Creek and Vail for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships with international media — print, Internet and television.

The first Worlds, by comparison, were a humble affair. Convening in Muerren, Switzerland, the inaugural 1931 event took all of five days and had just four events — downhills and slaloms for both men and women.

The combined didn’t start until 1932, when the championships, an annual event during the 1930s, came to Cortina, Italy, and it was a paper race, in one form or the other until 1982.

War looms

Walter Prager, of Switzerland, was the men’s star of 1931, winning both medals. He ended up coaching the sport at Dartmouth and joined something called the 10th Mountain Division during World War II. (Small world.) For trivia, Britain’s Esme Mackinnon did the double for the ladies as the Union Jack tied with Switzerland for most medals win, four.

The star of the decade was Germany’s Christl Cranz, who won 15 medals, including 12 gold, records to this day for the women.

The World Championships bounced around Europe in traditional locales until 1939 when the event came to Zakopane, Poland. The Germans won five of six gold medals and 12 of 18 in total at those Worlds, including Cranz’s sweep of the downhill, slalom and combined for the third year in a row. Just seven months later, Germany invaded, sparking the Second World War in Europe.

Technically, the World Championships happened in 1941 in Cortina, but only the Axis Powers attended. FIS scrubbed the results after the war. That year’s men’s downhill champion, Josef Jennewein, who also had three medals in 1939, was a Luftwaffe pilot and went down on the Russian front in 1943.

New disciplines and stars

With most of Europe in ruins, the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, served as the World Championships and would continue so every fourth year through the Lake Placid, New York, games of 1980. And so Gretchen Fraser became the first American to medal (gold in the slalom and silver in the combined) at either the Olympics or Worlds in 1948.

In 1950, the World Championships came to Aspen, the first time the event moved outside of Europe. It was also the first year that the giant slalom became an event with Zeno Colo, of Italy, and Dagmar Rom, of Austria, being the first winners in the discipline. With the inception of the GS, the combined, though still a paper race, was not contested in 1950 and at the 1952 Winter Olympics, before returning as a permanent staple at the 1954 Worlds in Are, Sweden. (At times, the combined was calculated not only by the downhill and slalom, but GS was thrown in.)

In Are, Jannette Burr, bronze in the GS, became the first American to medal in a non-Olympics World Championship event.

As the ’50s progressed, Austria’s Toni Sailer became the dominant force in men’s skiing, sweeping the downhill, GS and slalom at the Cortina Olympics of 1956, and the combined, which was not worth an Olympic medal, but a Worlds gold. He took three more golds and a silver in 1958 at Worlds in Bad Gastein, Austria.

Not only is he still fifth all-time for the most medals at Worlds, but he became the director of the Hahnenkamm race in Kitzbuehel, Austria, from 1986-2006.

The 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, are best known locally as the first time the American men made the podium with Billy Kidd and Jimmie Heuga taking slalom silver and bronze. Kidd also took the Worlds bronze in the combined, again, still not recognized as an Olympic event, but a Worlds medal, nonetheless.

The winner of said slalom was Austrian Pepi Stiegler, whose daughter, Resi, will likely compete here in February.

Portillo, Chile, in 1966, was the only time that the Worlds came to the Southern Hemisphere. The event was conducted in August, obviously a strange time of year for ski racing in most of the world. France’s Jean-Claude Killy didn’t seen to mind. He won the downhill and the combined, an omen of his dominating performance in Grenoble, France, in the 1968 Olympics.

There, he swept the Olympics on home snow (downhill, GS and slalom) and won the combined.

Meanwhile, for the women, France’s Marieller Goitschel struck gold in 1962, 1964, 1966 and 1968, a stretch that included seven golds and four silvers.

With their performances, Sailer and Killy joined an exclusive list of skiers to medal in four different events at Worlds/Olympics. Norway’s Lasse Kjus would make his own club at Vail ’99 by medaling in five. (Super-G wouldn’t become a Worlds event until 1987.)

Legends rise

The ’70s and ’80s saw legends atop the Olympic/Worlds podium. Bernhard Russi won the 1970 Worlds and 1972 Olympic downhill. Russi later helped build the Birds of Prey racecourse in Beaver Creek, and Russi’s Ride, a section of the piste, is named in his honor.

Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell won gold medals in 1972, 1974, 1978 and 1980. She holds the record for wins on the women’s World Cup with 62, a mark that Lindsey Vonn (61) is chasing. (World Championships and Olympics do not count as World Cup wins, but one is in a good place historically if in the same sentences with these greats.)

Austria’s Franz Klammer’s downhill reign included gold in 1974 and 1976. Also at Innsbruck in 1976, Olympics originally scheduled for Denver with the alpine races to be held at a new resort called Beaver Creek, Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark had seven Olympics/Worlds medals. Stenmark is the standard-bearer for all World Cup racers with a record 86 World Cup victories.

Steve Mahre shocked Stenmark in the 1982 Worlds in GS in Schladming, Austria, also the 2013 site. Also in 1982, the combined actually became a real race with a separately contested downhill and two slalom runs.

The Worlds, now separated from the Olympics, would be held in odd-numbered years starting in 1985.

An American presence

The super-G finally made it to Worlds in 1987, and Switzerland’s Pirmin Zubriggen won the first Worlds title in Crans Montana, Switzerland. Zubriggen is third on the super-G career wins list behind Hermann Maier (24) and Aksel Lund Svindal (12).

It was home snow and the Swiss acted like it, winning 14 of 30 medals, including eight of 10 golds.

American Tamara McKinney took bronze in the combined in 1987 and then won gold when Worlds came to Vail in 1989. That remains the only gold medal won on home snow in World Championships history, a fact most local fans hope will fall by the boards this February.

After the “Last Great Party of the 20th Century,” as Vail ’99 was dubbed, when Americans did not find success on their snow, Daron Rahlves (2001 downhill), Bode Miller (2003 combined and GS and 2005 downhill and super-G) started making inroads. Julia Mancuso (five medals from 2005-2013), Lindsey Vonn (five medals total, including 2009 golds in downhill and super-G) and Mikaela Shiffrin (2013 slalom) all have made the world their stage.

And, in 2013 in Schladming, American Ted Ligety not only defended his 2011 GS title, but also won the super-combined, replacing the traditional combined in 2007, and the super-G.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, cfreud@vaildaily.com and @cfreud.