Vail ’99 recap: ‘Alexandra the Great’ leads Austrians in GS
Editor’s note: Vail and Beaver Creek are hosting the 2015 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 — “Alexandra the Great,” screamed the headline of the Vail Daily as Alexandra Meissnitzer won the women’s giant slalom as the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships turned technical.
With the win, Meissnitzer, already the super-G champ, achieved ’99 star status along with teammate Renate Goetschl (downhill gold and super-G and combined silvers), with her second gold of the Austrian smackdown, er, competition.
Meissnitzer’s folks were in town for the win, and they were pretty pumped for their daughter.
“They were really happy,” Alexandra said. “It’s really nice for them to be here. It’s their first time in the states, and they say it’s a beautiful country. Now, it’s even more beautiful.”
Everything was gorgeous for the Austrians.
Through seven races, the team had won five golds, three silvers and four bronzes. On the women’s side, the domination had been more thorough. With sweeps in the downhill and super-G and first- and third-place finishes in the GS, the Austrian ladies had gone 9-for-12 in medals, going into the slalom. (Anita Wachter was the bronze medalist in the GS with Norway’s Andrine Flemmen having the temerity to break up another Austrian sweep in second.)
The good news for the rest of the world was that Austria would only win one more medal in the final three races — Christian Mayer got bronze in men’s slalom.
However, even by Austria’s lofty standards, Vail ’99 was a stunning success. Only Switzerland in 1987 won more medals (14) than Austria’s 13 in 1999 in the post-World War II era of this event. Switzerland’s two touchdowns, which included a record eight golds, came on home snow in Crans Montana, and it’s worth noting 1987 was the first year for the super-G, so there were more events, 10 as opposed to eight.
The only time Austria won more gold medals (six) was in 1962 in Chamonix, France. The Austrians also took five in 1991 on home snow in Saalbach.
This is the grave crisis, and it is a crisis in Austria. The Austrians have done well at Worlds, winning at least three golds in five of the last seven conventions of skiing’s best since 1999. However, they’ve dipped to two wins in Val d’Isere, France, in 2009, and, perhaps more disturbingly, two in Schladming in 2013.
The reason the latter is troubling is that Marcel Hirscher (slalom) was Austria’s only individual winner on home snow two years ago. The Austrians won the team event, but that’s the equivalent of winning the slam-dunk contest instead of the NBA Finals. American Ted Ligety won three golds by himself in Schladming.
And unlike 1999, there doesn’t appear to be anyone who is like a Hermann Maier, Goetschl or Meissnitzer who would be the prohibitive favorite in multiple events for Austria, and the depth of previous teams is not there.
Hirscher, the three-time overall champion, is the favorite in the men’s slalom, and he will most likely duke it out with Ligety in men’s GS, but after that, there are a lot of question marks for Team Austria. Hirscher, to date, has not won a super-combined, even with his masterful tech skills.
In men’s speed, Matthias Mayer, 24, has just one World Cup downhill win. Hannes Reichelt is a savvy veteran, particularly at Beaver Creek with three wins here (2005, 2007 and 2014).
Anna Fenninger, the defending women’s overall champion, may be the saving grace for the Austrians, but the way Slovenia’s Tina Maze is going so far this season, she is probably the one to beat.
The rest of the world is not crying for Austria, but how the perennial ski power does here in 2015 will be one of the major story lines at Beaver Creek.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.