The question after the first ski race on the U.S. Pro Tour is: Will Bernhard Knauss ever lose?
The answer, of course, is that he will. Someday. But racers and organizers are wondering when.He didn't in three days of skiing against the best in professional racing during Park City's America's Opening this past weekend. Not once. He never followed a challenger over the finish line. And he won the most money a skier could win - $14,000 and a $3,700 Rolex watch as the No. 1 qualifier.
He said after his giant slalom win on Saturday that he was perfect on the course and didn't make a mistake. And he said it again as he fielded questions after his slalom win.
"I did not make a mistake," he said with his Austrian accent. "I skied well again today."
Well enough that he beat Christian Hyttberg of Sweden in round one, No. 28 on tour last year; Ove Nygren of Norway, No. 9 in 1989-90; Tomaz Cerkovnik of Yugoslovia, No. 7; and finally Mathias Berthold, a fellow Austrian and a rookie on the tour this year.
Knauss didn't lose a race Saturday and he didn't lose a race Sunday. Dating back to last year, he has a string of 40 straight head-to-head victories.
Tour officials called it monumental. Other racers had a more balanced look.
Berthold said he felt he could have done better had he not been so nervous.
"I trained this summer, but it's not the same. I was hoping I could win but feel happy I was able to make it to the finals," the newcomer said.
Phil Mahre, who finished fourth, said the test will come in about a month.
"He (Knauss) is in a groove and he's skiing well. He likes a flatter hill like this one, too," Mahre said.
Mahre admitted that he wasn't ready to test Knauss at this race.
"I've now made 11 slalom runs (10 of them Sunday). This is only my 11th day of skiing this year. For me, the early races are a throw-away. By January, I'll be ready to race. I felt good on the last run (he lost to Cerkovnik), but I didn't feel good on my other runs. I wasn't putting pressure on the turning ski, but it'll come."
Knauss came to this event ready to ski. He said he trained hard all summer and was excited about this race. Most of last season he was bothered by muscle pain in his lower leg.
"It hurts right now," he said in the finish area, "but it didn't bother me while I skied. It did last year. My training, I think, helped me."
The toughest race was in the semifinals against Cerkovnik. Knauss had a one-gate lead on the first run but narrowly beat Cerkovnik in the second by 73-thousandths of a second.
Against Berthold, Knauss got a four-tenths of a second lead on the first run. On the second, Berthold took a ski-length lead after the second jump but gave it back off the third jump. He got off-balance on the landing and it cost him. Knauss beat him by 10 feet.
Under pro skiing rules, two racers compete on a course that includes three six-foot jumps. The two then return to the top of the hill, switch courses and race again. The skier with the lowest combined time advances.
After Park City, the men travel to Alpine Meadows, Calif., for the second of 16 races that will offer a combined $2 million in prize money.
The women take a month off after their single race on Saturday. They compete for considerably less money than the men. Last year, total prize money was under $100,000. For the Saturday race, Roswitha Raudaschl of Austria won $7,500, which was $2,140 more than she won on the entire tour last year.