VAIL, Colo. — Tamara McKinney gave the United States the first gold medal awarded at the World Alpine Ski Championships, recording a respectable third-place finish in the downhill today to win the women's combined title.
McKinney, who had been second in Sunday's combined slalom behind Swiss superstar Vreni Schneider, overtook Schneider with a surprisingly competent downhill--which is not her specialty.
Schneider, who has won an unprecedented 10 races on the World Cup circuit this season, settled for the silver medal. She ranked 11th in the downhill. Swiss teammate Brigitte Oertli took the bronze.
Mateja Svet of Yugoslavia was fourth in the combined, and Austria's Anita Wachter finished fifth.
Canada's Kerrin Lee paced the downhill with a time of 1 minute, 31.70 seconds. Oertli was second in 1:31.99 and McKinney flashed across in 1:32.10.
McKinney, 26, of Olympic Valley, Calif., trailed Schneider by 12-hundredths of a second in the slalom. Under the complicated scoring system used to figure combined, McKinney needed to beat Schneider by .10 in the downhill to overtake the Swiss for the combined.
McKinney left no margin for error in the downhill over a course featuring numerous jumps and turns. Her clocking was 1.84 seconds faster than Schneider's.
"I knew I had to risk everything," said McKinney, a veteran of 11 seasons with the U.S. Ski Team who has hinted that this will be her last season. "When I crossed the finish line, I didn't know I had won. But the roar of the crowd told me. I had a good performance."
Schneider had suffered from poor downhill training runs on a course that she said did not suit her style. She said the crash of teammate Pirmin Zurbriggen in men's training Wednesday was an additional burden entering today's race.