Vail ’99 recap: In a portent, Austrians sweep super-G
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 — This is why they are feared.
It is the Austrian Ski Team. Calling the Austrians the New York Yankees of skiing is actually somewhat insulting to the country of Austria.
With all respect to nations with great skiing histories such as Norway, Sweden, Switzerland Italy and, to a certain extent, the United States, the land nestled in the Alps of 8.2 million people owns alpine racing.
By any measure statistically, Austria is more like a conglomeration of the Yankees of baseball, the Packers of the NFL, the Lakers and Celtics of the NBA and the Canadiens of the NHL.
Austrians have won the most World Cup races, the most overall championships, the most Olympic medals (gold and otherwise) and the most FIS Alpine World Ski Championship medals (gold and otherwise).
And with the women’s super-G at Vail in ’99, the Austrians began a display of their dominance. Sure, the day previous, Austria’s Hermann Maier had the statistically improbable tie with Norway’s Lasse Kjus, with Austria’s Hans Knauss taking bronze, so they had two medals already in the bank.
But with a sweep of the podium on Feb. 3, 1999, in the postponed super-G — it had been snowed out two days earlier — the Austrians laid down a marker that Vail ’99 was going to be their show.
Alexandra Meissnitzer won what would be the first of two golds at the Championships, followed by teammates Renate Goetschl and Michaela Dorfmeister. Thanks for coming and drive home safely.
At the time, Meissnitzer was being compared to her fellow countryman Maier, who was at the height of his powers.
“I don’t like to be compared to Hermann Maier,” Meissnitzer said to the Vail Daily.
But, in fact, Meissnitzer was dubbed “The Alexnator,” or the “The Meissinator.”
Regardless, what follows tells of the Austrian attitude toward Vail ’99.
“Everyone in Austria was expecting a gold medal,” she said.
And by everyone, she was pretty much correct. ORF, Austrian public television, was broadcasting the Championships back home — remember that an 11 a.m. start here is 7 p.m. viewing in central Europe. Two-thirds of Austria watched the men’s downhill here later in the competition, so it’s not a great leap to say that a good portion of the country was watching the super-G, as well.
Translating into American terms, the Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl last season drew 112 million viewers, the most for any U.S. TV show ever. If half our country watched something it would be 150 million people. Two-thirds? Two-hundred million.
And that’s a podium
The Austrian podium was a legendary one. Meissnitzer, ironically, was the least accomplished racer, relatively speaking, of the three. She would win eight of her 14 career World Cup victories during the 1998-99 season en route to an overall championship and globes in the super-G and giant slalom.
Goetschl had a legendary career with 46 victories, which is fourth on the all-time list behind Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell, Lindsey Vonn and Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider. She was a five-time downhill World Cup champ and collected 10 globes in all.
Dorfmeister entered Vail ’99 with one World Cup win, and her career took off. She finished with 25 wins on the circuit and ended up with world titles in downhill in St. Anton, Austria, in 2001 and super-G in St. Moritz in 2003. At the 2006 Olympics, she captured gold in both.
American Kathleen Monahan took 23rd, while Caroline LaLive was 28th. Despite Chad Fleischer’s promising sixth place in the men’s super-G the day before, this was the beginning of a troubling trend for the U.S. Ski Team.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.