Vail ’99 recap: The ‘Herminator’ and the ‘Terminator’
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 — The guy was a ski instructor.
It’s a factual part of the Hermann Maier legend, which grew by leaps and bounds during the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships.
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The Herminator was at the height of his powers as the men’s downhill, the premiere event of the World Championships, dawned at Beaver Creek.
And even the Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was on hand for the show.
“He told me, ‘I’m glad you won. You terminated the mountain,’” Maier said of his chat with Schwarzenegger.
(Insert all your cheesy Arnold imitations here.)
The future governor of California aside, the competition was awed by Maier’s prowess.
“Incredible, just incredible,” said Italy’s Kristian Ghedina, who was the first to win on Birds of Prey back during the 1997 test event for the 1999 Worlds. “Just amazing.”
Maier won by 31-hundredths of a second over Norway’s Lasse Kjus after the two had their historic super-G tie a few days earlier. Kjus was on his way to medaling in every event, while fellow Norwegian Kjetil Andre Aamodt won his eighth career Worlds medal — bronze. Aamodt was on his way to piling up 12 World Championships medals in his career, the record for the men, but the Worlds downhill was all about Maier.
Going into Worlds, Maier was probably best known to the average American audience as the guy who had the ridiculous crash during the 1998 Olympic downhill in Nagano, Japan. Somehow, he came away unscathed from that wreck and went on to win the super-G and giant slalom.
Yet after finally working his way out of being a ski instructor in Austria, he was already making his mark on the World Cup. He had won the overall title, the first of four, during the 1997-98 season, capturing nine races during that campaign.
Maier’s 1999 was a bit of an “off” year for him. He finished third in the overall behind Kjus and Aamodt with a mere seven wins. (Again, a reminder that wins in the World Championships do not count toward the World Cup total.)
But there was something about Maier and Beaver Creek. This win was his third during a stretch of winning seven consecutive starts at Birds of Prey.
“This downhill is so great,” Maier said. “There’s a gliding section up top, then very steep and very fast section. It’s a very dangerous downhill and a very nice downhill.”
Maier would return to Beaver Creek in December 1999 and sweep all three Birds of Prey events in one weekend, giant slalom, downhill and super-G, a feat that’s only been equaled by Switzerland’s Carlo Janka in 2009.
During that 1999-2000 season, Maier racked up a record 2,000 World Cup points, a mark that stood until Slovenia’s Tina Maze blew by it in the 2012-13 season. Maier captured globes in the overall, downhill, super-G and GS during his 2,000-point season.
Hermann made it seven with a downhill win here on Dec. 2, 2000, before — gasp — finishing sixth in the super-G the next day. (Norway’s Fredrik Nyberg is the answer to the trivia question of “Who was the guy to end Maier’s streak at Beaver Creek?”) Despite that minor setback, Maier repeated as the World Cup champion in overall, downhill, super-G and GS in 2000-01.
‘My greatest medal’
At the time, Maier called the 1999 downhill, “My greatest medal.” That is certainly up for debate. In August 2001, he was in a serious motorcycle accident and nearly had his right leg amputated. He missed the entire 2001-02 season.
Nonetheless, he came back, winning in Kitzbuehel in the super-G, a sweet victory for an Austrian on home snow, in January 2003. Later that calendar year, Maier returned here to win his eighth and final time at Beaver Creek.
By the by, the second-most prolific racer at Beaver Creek is American Ted Ligety with five wins. He’s obviously a favorite in the 2015 giant slalom, but also hopes to make some noise in the super-G and combined.
In the 1999 downhill, despite the largest crowd to watch a ski race in the United States, the Americans made very little noise. Chad Fleischer, the local kid, was the top American in 23rd.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org 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.