Then came the first round of the giant slalom. Leading Otto Tschudi in the first heat, Killy soared over a bump and made a rare error. He misjudged the line, crashed into the next gate and was disqualified. Poof! Killy was out.
Sabich scooted eagerly into the opportunity Killy had opened and reached the semifinals. But there, hurtling over the second jump at high speed, Spider caught his arm on a gate, somersaulted onto the back of his neck in an explosion of snow and skis and fractured a vertebra in his back. He struggled up but was too stunned to walk and was led away, destined for the local hospital and at least six weeks of inactivity.
With both Killy and Sabich snuffed out, Stuefer sailed smoothly through to the finals where he easily outraced Nindl in both heats, earning 52,500 and his 25 points. He then stood only 13 points behind Killy for the season. "Yes, my chances are good," he said after the race, "but I am not exactly confident. Jean-Claude is probably just a little bit mad and intends to be very fast in the slalom tomorrow."
Tomorrow was delayed for a day by the sudden blizzard but Sunday came up sunny, and the racers assembled for the finale. For all the cheering, it was a touch anticlimactic: Stuefer's last chance vanished when he lost to Tyler Palmer. Off to one side, Killy raised his arms, grinned that "I can relax now," and went on to victory.
The pro racing season is over but the suspense lingers on. Will Karli Schranz, the great downhill specialist, join the tour as he indicates he will? And will he do well if he does join? More vitally, will Killy soon confirm the rumors of his retirement, in spite of winning a grand total of $68,625 this season?
"Oh, he'll be back," said Stuefer, who doesn't really know. "Racing is the thing he loves best."
"We'd like him to come back," said Ian Todd, "but what we say has about a 5% effect on his decisions. No one knows what he's been through to win this year. He won't stay on."
Jean-Claude, of course, had the final word, such as it was. "I had been getting stronger and stronger each week, but now I'm just so tired," he said. He indicated he would think it over for a couple of months. "This has been the toughest, most exhausting season of racing I've ever been through. If you ask me now whether or not I'll retire, I'd have to say yes, I'll never come back."