Vail ’99 recap: Wiberg snags a late moment of glory | VailDaily.com

Vail ’99 recap: Wiberg snags a late moment of glory

Sweden's Pernilla Wiberg skis the slalom course in the World Alpine Ski Championships women's combined in Vail on Feb. 5, 1999, on her way to winning the event.
Associated Press | AP

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 the comeback story.

Sweden’s Pernilla Wiberg’s career was already cemented when she came to the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships.

But the question was, “Did she have one left in her?”

As it turned out, Wiberg had two more glorious moments in her career.

Wiberg won the women’s combined at Vail ’99, temporarily snapping Austria’s winning streak of two races (both super-Gs). Not to be left out, Austria’s Renate Goetschl took second after another silver in the super-G earlier in the week. France’s Florence Masnada was a surprise third. (The World Championships as an event has the strange ability to spotlight simultaneously the greats of the sport as well as producing a “who the heck is that” moment. Vail ’99 was no exception, but the real surprise came in women’s slalom.)

Wiberg was overjoyed because she had returned to the top of the mountain with this win.

“You always have to believe you can take the gold medal,” the racer told the Vail Daily.

The end?

Her belief had been tested.

Wiberg had been the golden child of skiing for most of the ’90s. In her first World Cup start in 1990, she finished fifth. Primarily a technical skier — 16 of her 24 World Cup wins ended up being in giant slalom and slalom — she burst onto the scene with giant-slalom gold at the 1991 Worlds in Saalbach, Austria.

Then came gold in the 1992 Olympic GS and the 1994 Olympic combined. (The Lillehammer, Norway, games were the shift in the Winter Olympics cycle that put them in different years than their summer counterparts.)

In 1996, in Sierra Nevada, Spain, where Worlds had been pushed back a year because of a lack of snow, Wiberg hauled in gold in both the slalom and the combined.

After a disappointing showing in Sestriere, Italy, at the 1997 Worlds, she came to Vail for the World Cup Finals in Vail, the test event for the 1999 Championships, and won the downhill and the slalom.

Since that would be one of only two downhill wins in her career, she believed she was all set for Vail ’99. And then the knee injuries came.

Knee injuries are very common in ski racing, but for a tech racer they are doubly dangerous. Wiberg looked like she was finished.

Second slalom decisive

A reminder that the combined in 1999 was two runs of slalom in addition to the downhill. The super-combined, which will be contested this year, is a downhill and one run of slalom.

Wiberg needed that second run of slalom, as it turned out. Goetschl led after the first run of slalom, but Wiberg crushed Pepi’s Face, the most difficult part of the slalom course in Vail, on her second run.

“(My second run) was not without fault,” she said. “I made a mistake on the bottom part. I think when you go fast you have these small mistakes. … I didn’t expect Renate to ski so good in the slalom. She really put pressure on me, and I really had to give my best in the second run.”

Wiberg defeated Goetschl by 15-hundredths of a second. And, for good measure, she capped her star-studded career with a silver medal, her sixth in Worlds competitions, in the slalom at the end of Vail ’99.

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