Vreni Schneider keeps making just enough mistakes to show she can be beaten. Then she does something to show that the beating won't come today.
Schneider, unbeaten in 10 World Cup gate races this season, was in real jeopardy after strolling in 1.17 seconds behind American Tamara McKinney in the first run of Sunday's women's combined slalom, the opening event of the World Alpine Ski Championships.One second is a virtual lifetime in ski racing, especially when the advantage is given to someone like McKinney, twice a World Cup slalom champion.
So in the second run, Schneider simply blew away her competition, beating McKinney by 1.29 seconds to win in 1 minute, 18.58 seconds. McKinney, whose 41:39 was second-best in the afternoon, had an aggregate of 1:18.70, .84 seconds ahead of third-place Matej Svet of Yugoslavia.
"I didn't do anything special on the second run," Schneider said. "I didn't have the impression I skied badly because I skied my best on the first run, although I had a problem with one of my poles at the start and again later on. But it just turned out I was fast on my second run as has been usual for me this season."
The victory didn't earn Schneider a medal, but it did give her a ski up on her competition heading into a downhill race Thursday, second part of this hybrid event. Schneider, acknowledged as the best slalom and giant slalom skier in the world, is merely competent in downhill.
McKinney, like Schneider, makes only occasional starts in downhill, so the two appear about evenly matched. That's why the .12 second advantage gained in the slalom is a great boost for Schneider's hopes of winning a gold.
If Schneider saw no real faults in her first run, the Swiss technical coach, Paul-Henri Francey, saw plenty.
"The first run she was sleeping," he said. "She's never skied so badly. She wasn't concentrating. I told her to be aggressive on the second run, that she had nothing to lose."
The first run was fairly straight, allowing skiers to build up speed as they came down the mountain. It was a course that favored McKinney, long noted for a soft touch in slalom.
The second course, McKinney noted, "turned quite a bit across the fall line. I had some problems up on the steep portions."
That's where McKinney lost time and where Schneider made it up in bunches with powerful turns and thrusts.