There's a lesson to be learned from Hansjoerg Tauscher's startling victory in the men's downhill in the World Alpine Ski Championships. It is that skis are important, but they must have a skier atop them.
Given a set of skis tuned to the powdery but brutally cold snow that covered Beaver Creek's Centennial downhill track, Tauscher supplied the rest of the winning equipment - a skier able to overcame a slow start with an aggressive, hell-bent dash to the bottom of the mountain.To the disbelief of everyone, including himself, Tauscher upset those kings of the downhill - Switzerland's Pirmin Zurbriggen and Peter Mueller and Luxembourg's Marc Girardelli - to give West Germany its first-ever downhill title in a world championship.
"The equipment is very important, of course, but you still have to ski the ski and make the turns," the 21-year-old native of Oberstdorf said.
The world championship race began as had many of Tauscher's World Cup races: he was woefully slow at the start, ranking only 29th in the 55-skier field at the first intermediate clocking some 23 seconds into the run.
"I usually always have problems with the start," Tauscher said. "Last year, I also had the best time in the lower part here" in finishing 19th in a World Cup race.
"And in the World Cup, it often happened that I'm doing very good times in the lower part where I'm really aggressive, where I can let the ski go."
Tauscher was second-quickest between the first and second checkpoints, then put up the fastest times between the third and fourth intermediate stops.
Because of his slow start, Tauscher was still only ninth entering the gulch-like area of the course known as Rattlesnake Alley. He was the quickest through that trench, and carried his speed on down to the finish. He was up to fifth-fastest as he exited Rattlesnake, then made a perfect high-speed turn at Ford's Porch, so named because the jump is located near the porch of former President Ford's home.
At the end, Tauscher put up a time of 2 minutes, 10.39 seconds. Mueller, getting a medal in his fifth consecutive major championship event, was .19 seconds back. Another Swiss, Karl Alpiger, was third in 2:10.67.
Alpiger's dilemma was typical. He led Tauscher by a resounding six-tenths of a second exiting Rattlesnake, yet ended up .28 seconds back. He lost .88 seconds in the space of about 600 yards, simply because Tauscher was going about 3 mph faster.
"I made a small mistake in the Rattlesnake," said Alpiger, who also won a bronze medal in the 1987 World Championships at Crans-Montana, Switzerland. "I was too much on the inside ski and then on the last turns I was maybe trying too much to stay on my line."
Mueller, silver medalist in the Calgary Olympics after winning the 1987 world title, was .32 seconds faster than Tauscher at the top, then gradually gave away his advantage when he, like the others, failed to match the German's late speed. Mueller had the second-fastest trip from Rattlesnake to the finish, yet he gave away a monstrous .33 seconds in that stretch, changing the color of his medal from gold to silver.