Bernhard Knauss had a perfect day. Flawless. The kind of a day he thinks about . . . on and off his edges with balance, not too much air off the jumps, weight low, challenger always behind.
As a result:- He won the men's giant slalom in Park City's America's Opening.
- He won $7,000.
- He made challengers and spectators wonder if he would ever lose this season.
- He proved to himself that he's once again healthy, confident and as good as everyone says he is.
The 25-year-old Austrian skied against five of the best skiers on the pro tour and didn't give up a gate. Against all five he was looking over his shoulder at the finish.
In the women's race, held earlier in the day, Roswitha Raudaschl, also of Austria, pulled a few surprises to win the women's giant slalom. For her win she got $7,500, which is $2,140 more than she won on the entire women's tour last year as its No. 5 finisher.
Before the men's race began on Clementine run at Park City Saturday, Knauss was the center of many discussions. Consensus was that he was good, but was he healthy enough to win again?
He left the Austrain ski team late in the 1988 ski season, but still got the attention of the pros. Last season he was injured in the opening race, missed four races, but still made his mark - second overall. All season, though, he complained of pains in his lower leg.
In qualifying on Friday he posted the fastest time of 59 skiers to win a $3,700 Rolex watch. Luck? One good run? Or, was Knauss healthy again? He made 10 runs on Saturday and, as he said with obvious relief, "I didn't make a mistake. From the round of 32 to the finish, I didn't make a mistake."
Which in ski racing is like going 20-for-20 from the field in basketball, or hitting on 20 straight passes in football, or getting a hat-trick in hockey, or a hole-in-one in golf. Perfect days are rare - as the field of 32 from Saturday's race will attest.
Among his most noted wins were Phil Mahre in the second round, No. 3 on tour last year; Tomaz Cerkovink of Yugoslovia in the third round, No. 7 last year; and Torjus Berge of Norway, No. 5 last year, in the semifinals.
In the finals he met up with the biggest surprise of the day - Oswald Totsch of Italy. Totsch is a rookie and rookies are never supposed to do well in their first race. The side-by-side format, the three bumps and the shorter couse are all considered handicaps.
For Knauss, the finals were no different than his other four races. He beat Totsch by .852 of a second on the first run and by .176 of a second on the second. He was perfect, Totsch wasn't. On the first run, Totsch was late getting out of the gate. On the second he was hard on the edges on the flat and allowed Knauss to pass him.
Knauss said his first-race success was because of his good training over the summer and an almost-complete recover from his injury.
"I'm in good shape and I felt good - physically and mentally. That was the difference. My leg hurt a little today, but it didn't bother me while I raced.
"I skied carefully, though. With the hard snow and the jumps you have to ski carefully. You can't ski too fast or you make mistakes."
The Mahres got top billing for this race but were hardly in long enough to get more than a mention. Steve Mahre, who was injured last year, lost in the opening round. Phil Mahre lost to Knauss in the second round - by .575 of a second on the first run and by 2.4 seconds on the second.
The Mahres, however, were always better known for their slalom efforts. They'll have the opportunity prove it today when the men ski in the slalom finals.
The favorite, of course, will be Knauss.
In the women's race, there were some surprises. One was turned in by Tori Pillinger, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team and a resident of Park City. This was her first pro race and she made the round of 16.
Raudaschl, however, turned in the biggest upset. She beat Catherina Glasser-Bjerner of Sweden, the run-away winner of last year's women's tour, in the semifinals - both runs.
In the finals she met Birget Hussauf of Austria, No. 2 finisher on the women's tour last year and winner of qualifying on Friday.
On the first run, Hussauf got off balance coming off the third jump and gave up half a second to Raudaschl. On the second Raudaschl skied her best run of the day and beat Hussauf by the same margin.
"Yesterday," said Raudaschl, "I just didn't have my rhythm. I wasn't on my skis. Today I was a lot looser. I just felt good.
"On the last run I knew I had to stay with her and not make any mistakes. I got a fast start and that helped. Then I knew I could stay with her."
Conditions for Saturday's event were as good as they can get for a ski race. It was sunny and warm enough to make watching comfortable for spectators, but still cold enough to keep snow conditions good.
Today, the men's slalom will begin at 11 a.m. The women were only scheduled to ski in one event.
As was the case with the GS on Saturday, the eventual winner will have to make 10 runs against five skiers. Under pro rules, skiers are matched and then race side-by-side. After the first run, the skiers return to the top of the hill, switch courses and race a second time. The racer with the lowest combined time advances to the next round.
The question, of course, is whether Knauss is capable of making a mistake. Saturday he wasn't. Sunday?