Riding the wave of cheers, McKinney beat Schneider by 1.84 seconds, giving her the combined gold by a wide margin. Schneider got the silver and her teammate Brigitte Oertli the bronze. No sooner had McKinney slid to a stop than Schneider walked over and became the first person to give the winner a hug. McKinney's eyes glistened with joy, and the crowd roared with joy, and the spirit of gloom that had pervaded the championships finally lifted.
Later, at a press conference, Schneider was as gracious as if she had won: "Tamara was the best, and for me a silver medal is a super beginning. I was fourth at Crans-Montana and I did not finish in Calgary, so this makes me feel very good."
Someone asked McKinney the requisite question: "How did you feel the moment you knew that you had won?"
She gazed silently at the reporter for a moment, and then she laughed and said, "Yahoo!"
Someone else asked if this was the best downhill she had ever run, and she said, "By far. I had a good feeling warming up this morning. I liked this downhill because it was technical [involving many turns and bumps], but it was difficult because I'm not used to having such high speed going into turns like that. I've had good races before, but I've had some bad races too. To have my good races come together here in Colorado and at home makes it a really special day. I'm still trying to figure out what I did." She paused. "It was a great day. Somebody was helping me out today."
The following day on the Beaver Creek course, Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg had a similar epiphany when he won the men's combined. By finishing third in the slalom and second in the downhill by an eye-blink .01 to the hulking Italian downhiller, Michael Mair, he took the gold by a huge margin. The silver went to Paul Accola of Switzerland and the bronze to Günther Mader of Austria. Zurbriggen skied a brave race with badly bruised ribs suffered in his earlier fall and finished fourth. Afterward he said, "I have had nothing but problems, but I think it's getting better now. I can't say I am satisfied, but I am happy for my teammate."
Girardelli's victory was no surprise. A native of Austria who has skied for Luxembourg since 1976 because his autocratic father had a disagreement with Austrian ski authorities many years ago, Girardelli has been merely superhuman on the '88-89 World Cup circuit. More versatile than any racer since Jean-Claude Killy, winner of three Olympic gold medals in '68, Girardelli has already won three downhills, a giant slalom and two slaloms this season. He has all but wrapped up the World Cup overall title, having amassed 306 points to runner-up Zurbriggen's 231.
Usually a man of grouchy mien and short temper, Girardelli spoke warmly to the press after his victory. Of the Beaver Creek course, where the men's downhill event would later be held, he said, "I don't like this course as much as the European courses because I am a technical skier, not a glider. The conditions changed completely from the training runs, and this was only a question of how good your skis were. The downhill is always a battle of equipment, but that I finished .01 of a second behind Mair today is a good omen for what comes next."
Because of his rare talent in all five events in the championships, Girardelli was considered a likely candidate to sweep all five gold medals. He was properly—and, as it turned out, rightly—modest about all this, and when he was asked by a reporter if he planned to go for five straight victories, he said, with an uncharacteristically shy smile, "I am very happy with one gold medal. For the other events, I have no ambitions. Besides, I must tell you that I have already won more than five medals—three in Crans-Montana, two in Bormio and one here."
On Saturday, Girardelli was to have gone after his second medal in Vail, in the men's downhill, but a 32-inch snowfall at Beaver Creek buried the world championships for a day, and his run for more gold was put on hold for two days. The women's downhill on Sunday finally picked up the pace of these slowly unfolding championships. It turned out to be a picture-book race run in bitter cold over sun-splashed snow, and it was won by a storybook star who announced to the world in a postrace interview on ABC. "I skied perfect."