History of the FIS Alpine Ski World Championship

The FIS Alpine Ski World Championships have been running for over 80 years. There were a few curious instances in that time. They include time differences between winners and runners up of almost 30 seconds, the championship that never was, one without snow, and the man who became women’s world champion.

 




80 years ago, the first FIS Alpine Ski World Championship took place in Murren. Murren is a picturesque small skiing resort in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland. While the event these days is a major happening, in 1931 seven nations took part. Of these seven, Australia, Italy, and Norway sent only one participant to represent them. The other four participants Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom split the medals in between them. 


At the first World Championship, men and women only competed in two events: Downhill and slalom. A medal for the combined results of the two was introduced in 1932. The winner of the men’s downhill event took 22 seconds less than the runner up; in the women’s downhill, Esme McKinnon representing the United Kingdom won by an even larger margin of 27 seconds. 


The World Championship was held on an annual basis until 1939. Due to World War II, no events took place in 1940. The result of the 1941 event was cancelled by the FIS in 1946 due to the limited number of participants coming exclusively from the Axis Nations. No further events were held until 1948 when the first post war Championship was held in Switzerland. The host was St. Moritz in the Grisons Engadin Valley and it was held together with the first post war Winter Olympics. 


From 1948 to 1982, World Championships were held every two years whereby the Winter Olympics counted as a World Championship as well with exception of the combined event. In 1985 the new regime of World Championships in odd years was started while retaining the biennial scheduling. Exceptional was the World Championship of 1995 to be held in the Sierra Nevada in Spain; due to lack of snow, the event had to be cancelled and was moved to 1996. The event took place at the same location without a hitch. 


The World Championship of 1956 showed that it could be a place where stars are born. A twenty year old Austrian by the name of Toni Sailer managed the impossible that year and won the gold medals in all four events: Downhill, giant slalom, slalom, and combined. Two years later, at the Winter Olympics of 1958, he was a total failure; he won only silver in the slalom, but obviously gold in all the other events. 


The 1966 World Championship was exceptional; it was held in Portillo in Chile and it is the only time so far that it was held in the southern hemisphere. Even more exceptional was the winner of the women’s downhill race. The event was won by Austria’s Erika Schinegger. Before the 1968 Winter Olympics, the women participants of the alpine skiing events underwent a medical test which showed Erika to be in fact male. Having been brought up as a girl, it turned out that he had a medical condition of pseudohermaphroditism. 


The FIS took a practical approach to the conundrum: They issued a new set of medals and reissued the ranking where Erika Schinegger’s name was missing; at the same time they didn't annul his champion’s title. While the results board of the FIS shows only France’s Marielle Goitschl as winner, there are in fact two world champions in the downhill of that year. 


Erika Schinegger in turn underwent an operation and changed his name to Erik. He is married, has a daughter, runs a skiing school for children and two hotels in his home village in Austria, and writes books about skiing. In 1988, he published his story in Mein Sieg Über Mich. Der Mann, Der Weltmeisterin Wurde. (My Victory Over Myself. The Man Who Became Women’s World Champion). 


The book has been bandied about Hollywood since 2007; filming of a movie based on Erika Schinegger’s life is due to begin sometime, but seems to be in perpetual limbo.