Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider came to Lillehammer having already experienced the emotional extremes of the Olympic stage. Her debut at the 1988 Winter Games had seen her leave Calgary with two gold medals and a reputation for being one of the world’s greatest skiers. But four years later she returned home empty-handed from Albertville.
By the time she arrived in Lillehammer, Schneider was 29 and already a triple world champion. She entered three events – the slalom, giant slalom, in which she had won gold in 1988, and the combined.The combined, the first of he events, started with a downhill run that was dominated by the three downhill medalists, with Katia Seizinger quickest, as Schneider finished seventh overall.
But the slalom element of the event changed the standings profoundly. The downhillers all dropped out of medal contention while Sweden’s Pernilla Wiberg moved up from fifth to take gold. But Schneider produced a stunning slalom run, taking silver just 0.13 secs behind Wiberg.
The giant slalom was next on her schedule. Schneider was fourth fastest on the first run, third quickest second time around, and third overall to take her second medal of the Games. She now had silver and a bronze. Could she go one better in the slalom, her strongest event? Not only had she won the Olympic gold in 1988, but she had also won the World Cup title four times since 1989. She should have been an overwhelming favourite, but a back issue had hindered her performance over the previous couple of months.
After the first run, Schneider was in fifth place. Just as she had done in the combined and giant slalom, the Swiss skier knew she was going to have to produce something special on the second run in order to make it onto the podium.
This time round, though, her second run was incredible. Katja Koren of Slovenia had held the first-run lead but couldn’t get within 1.28 secs of Schneider’s time. Wiberg, who stood second, was even further back. Schneider moved from fifth to first, the winner by more than a third of a second. Her full house of medals was complete – gold, silver and bronze at a single Games.