Vail 1989 World Championships

1989 From The Inside

From January 29 through February 12 of 1989, the eyes of the world turned toward this Colorado valley, watching very closely to see if these upstart Americans could actually pull off the most prestigious event in alpine ski racing.

When the dust had finally settled, those same eyes could easily be excused for seeming a tad misty from the fact that it was all over.

“Absolutely excellent,” offered Marc Hodler, President of the International Ski Federation. “An example for future organizers.”

“Congratulations,” added former President Gerald R. Ford. “A smashing success.”

“Wars and the Pentagon should be run this efficiently,” echoed Denver Post columnist Dick Connor.

The super powers were in attendance—those of Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France, along with superstars such as Alberto Tomba, Pirmin Zurbriggen, Vreni Schneider and Tamara McKinney.

But there were others, 42 nations in all, a record number of countries for those who keep such statistics. For many of these racers who hailed from such non-traditional alpine countries as Algeria, the Peoples Republic of China and South Korea, the march into the Opening Ceremonies Stadium on the evening of January 29 was their gold medal.

There were the pre-event favorites who lived up to their advance billing, such as Maria Walliser, Mateja Svet, Marc Girardelli, Schneider and Zurbriggen.

But there were also those who might have surprised themselves just a little bit, such as Austria’s Rudi Nierlich, who took home two gold medals to St. Wolfgang; West Germany’s Hansjoerg Tauscher, who waited until the last competitor had completed the men’s downhill course to allow himself to believe he had won; Ulrike Maier of Austria, who, it was later learned, captured the women’s Super-G while three months pregnant and Italy��s Tomba, who went home empty-handed.

Perhaps the biggest win of the two weeks went to America’s Tamara McKinney, who shook off the albatross of being the best women’s ski racer in the world without a gold medal with her combined victory. It was a medal that represented a great win for Tamara, but an even bigger one for the World Championships and U.S. Skiing.

The volunteers showed up as well, again over 1,200 strong, to help put the valley’s best foot forward and to welcome the world their home. When they were finished, the world left with a desire to come back again, vowing it would not be another 40 years before they returned.

The public witnessed all of these things and many more during the 1989 World Championships. However, what they may not have seen, or better yet, what they may not have felt came from within, not only the inner circle of the Organizing Committee, but from within each person who was touched by the Championships.

However, when February 12 rolled around, no one was quite prepared for the feelings that manifested themselves during Closing Ceremonies. A tremendous sense of accomplishment mixed with an unexplainable longing for the event to continue forever.

Then it was time to attempt to sort out what it all meant in the larger scheme of things. It was time for each person to take their own personal memories and experiences and put them in a shoebox for safe keeping. Five years of preparation for two weeks—an investment that would make Merrill Lynch cringe.

However, what Mr. Merrill, or Mr. Lynch for that matter, don’t realize is just how few people in this world have the opportunity to be involved in something like the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships. Granted, it is certainly one fleeting moment in time…but it was our moment. It was “our” World Championships.

Photos from the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships