Switzerland's daredevil Maria Walliser did exactly that. Since her arrival on the World Cup circuit in 1980, she has won 14 downhills, including Sunday's race and the world championship at Crans-Montana in 1987. She lost the downhill gold in the '84 Olympics by a scant .05 to her teammate Michela Figini and finished fourth at Calgary last year.
She's a constant presence on Swiss magazine covers, and the press in Europe seeks all manner of intimate details about her life. On the day of the downhill, the Zurich newspaper Blick printed the name of her hotel in Vail and her room number, and reported that Walliser had insisted on the special privilege of rooming alone because she required solitude to pursue her study of Far Eastern philosophies, her alpha training (a biofeedback relaxation technique) and her meditation on the circulation of energy through her body.
She doesn't seem to resent invasions of her privacy; she readily talked with the reporter from Blick about her finances. "I have made much money in the World Cup," she said. "I don't want to pile it up in a bank account. I'd rather invest it in a beautiful home." When another reporter asked her if she feared injury, she said airily, "I am not afraid of crashing. I never hurt myself because I am a Glückspilz"—which translates loosely as "lucky mushroom."
There was nothing lucky—or mushroomlike—about Walliser's triumph at Vail. As she said coolly the night before the race, "I have three chances for a gold medal—in the downhill, the giant slalom and the Super G. One of them should work out." She was ninth out of the start, just behind Figini, who was the favorite. Figini's run was flawed—by her own high standards, at least—and she wound up eighth. But Walliser was, as she would certainly agree, flawless.
Each of her interval times as she charged down the hill widened the gap over her opponents. She skied so effortlessly and with such speed that she seemed to be descending a course entirely different from the one everybody else was on. She crossed the finish line in 1:46.50, a full 1.5 seconds ahead of the silver medalist, Canada's budding star Karen Percy, who won the hearts of her countrymen in the Calgary Olympics by winning bronze medals in the downhill and the Super G. A West German unknown, Karin Dedler, edged out Heidi Zurbriggen, sister of Pirmin, for the bronze.
As Walliser stood by a fence in the finish area, giving interviews, she seemed unable to believe her own perfection. "I made no mistakes, I think," she said. "If I had made a mistake, I would not be 1.5 seconds ahead, would I?" But like the proper queen she is, she didn't take all the credit herself. Some went to the servants too. As she spoke, a tall man in a Swiss team uniform approached. carrying an armful of skis. Walliser ran to him and kissed him with such passion that the press assumed he was her boyfriend. Not so. The man proved to be René Schlumpf, the technician who had prepared her Völkl skis for the tricky snow on the course.
On Monday, the men's downhill was run at last, and the conditions were essentially the same as they had been during Walliser's dazzling run—a bright arctic sun shining on a course covered with below-zero snow. Thus, it was surely no coincidence that the man who came in first at Beaver Creek was also wearing Völkl skis that were prepared by a Völkl technician. These skis, which are made in Bavaria, are known around the World Cup circuit as the best performers in deep-freeze races, and the temperature at Beaver Creek at race time was nine below zero.
But if the winner had Walliser's skis, he certainly didn't possess so much as a glimmer of her glamour—or her record as a consistent winner. His name was Hansjörg Tauscher. He was only 21, a West German border guard by vocation and a comic impersonator of more famous skiers by avocation. He had never won a World Cup race before. His best finish has been a fifth this season and he is currently 30th in the World Cup downhill standings. He was the first German to win a world championship downhill since before World War II, and he sounded as dumbfounded as anyone over his victory: "I never thought I'd ever beat the kings of downhill, Peter Müller and Pirmin Zurbriggen. It's like having a dream."
Behind Tauscher came a phalanx of four Swiss racers—the ancient Müller, Karl Alpiger, Daniel Mahrer and William Besse. Zurbriggen, the World Cup champion in the event, had the wrong ski preparation and could do no better than a tie for 15th. For Müller, it was his fourth silver medal (plus one gold) in the world championships and Olympics. Philosophical as always, he said, "I am happy enough with another silver. We have not raced in such cold weather for a long time. In Europe it's rarely this cold, so we all had a hard time selecting the right skis. And the right skis were very, very important."
Of course, no one knew that better than Girardelli, who saw his chances for quintuple gold evaporate as he descended the mountain on what proved to be the fourth slowest run in the top seed of 15. He finished 21st and said, "I had no chance on such a course. If the equipment is not suited exactly to the conditions, you might as well forget it."