Tired of skiing and slowed by leg and back problems after 16 illustrious seasons of racing, Ingemar Stenmark had one more dramatic moment in his 32-year-old body.
Now, he's prepared to pass the torch to countryman Lars-Boerje Eriksson.Stenmark broke a two-year victory drought Sunday, with a blistering second run to overtake Luxembourg's Marc Girardelli and capture a men's World Cup giant slalom in Aspen in what was his final race in North America.
The incomparable Swede raised his victory total to 86 - a figure that is considered unassailable. By contrast, his closest rival is Girardelli, with 27 racevictories.
In the finish area, other racers lined up to congratulate Stenmark in an emotional tribute to the greatest technical skier the sport has ever known.
"All year there hasn't been a racer who wasn't cheering for him to win one more time," said Kyle Wieche of Farmington, Conn., who managed a breakthrough of his own, placing seventh.
Swedish Coach Herman Nogler said Stenmark's retirement after races next month in Japan "is a sad feeling. Part of my life is ending."
But Nogler then embraced Eriksson and said, "I'm glad to have him as a coming force for the Swedish team."
Eriksson, who won Saturday's super giant slalom for his first World Cup victory, placed third in Sunday's GS.
Eriksson was cheering for Stenmark in the finish area even though Stenmark's time knocked him from the lead.
"I'm just so happy - Stenmark wins and I'm third, my second time on the podium in two days," Eriksson said. "Stenmark's winning is fantastic. Now he can quit without regrets."
Stenmark wanted to go out a winner. He recalled that he had planned to retire after the 1982 season, but decided to continue racing after finishing that season with poor results. He probably would not have skied this season but for the recently concluded World Championships in Vail.> "This victory means a lot to me because this is my last year of racing, Stenmark said. "If I wouldn't have won, people would have said I was 10th or 15th the last year and wasn't a good skier. Now I think I've proven I can still ski well. In every sport, you have to be up-to-date - not think about, well, he was good 10 years ago.> "It's great that I could win one more race. It's a fantastic feeling. I could hear the crowd cheering for me all the way down the course. It felt very good."
Trailing Girardelli by 21-hundredths of a second after the first run, Stenmark was 33-hundredths faster than the Luxembourg star on the second run.
Stenmark had an aggregate time of 2 minutes, 16.40 seconds. Girardelli, further lengthening his lead in the World Cup overall standings, was second in 2:16.52. Eriksson placed third in 2:17.67.
Tomaz Cizman of Yugoslavia was fourth in 2:18.18, and Switzerland's Martin Hangl took fifth in 2:18.23.
Italy's Alberto Tomba, a distant 15th after the first run and 1.83 seconds off the lead, rallied to finish sixth at 2:18.27.> *****
Turn on the cameras and Swiss teammates Michela Figini and Maria Walliser will laugh and joke, appearing to be the best of friends.
Turn off the cameras and the two best female downhill racers in the world are hard-pressed to sincerely compliment each other.
On Sunday in Lake Louise, Alberta, after Figini nipped Walliser for the second straight day and claimed her third straight World Cup downhill title, the two were at it again.
The two disagree over which was more important, the world championship gold medal Walliser has won twice in a row or the World Cup title Figini has won four of the last five years.
Said Figini: "Olympic Games and world championships are something else but ... this one is more important because I won this title with five victories. They've never had this in World Cup downhill."
Walliser won the downhill title in 1984 and 1986, but said those crowns weren't as important as the world championship gold medals.