Today was a downhill training day for both the men and women at the World Alpine Skiing Championships. Training was open to the public free of charge. My husband and I decided to take advantage of it and get autographs from the skiers and also their photos. I could only attend the men's training session because I had to go to work in the afternoon. Living 400 meters from the gondola to the ski area where the championships are being held has its advantages. I could see a training session and still be home in time to have lunch and get ready for work.
On our first chairlift ride we sat with a skier from Uzbekistan who was doing slalom training on the easy slope. Between his few words of English and my pidgin Russian, he told us that skiers in his country only do slalom and giant slalom. He was going to be in both of those races next week. Then it was up to the top of the Kandahar run to see if any athletes were making their way to the start house. It was pretty early and we saw a lot of course monitors and slippers. For those who don't know about ski racing, a slipper goes on the course after a racer and smooths down any rough spots. Since it was early, we decided to go to the top of the Kreuzeckbahn gondola station. The athletes had to take that gondola to get to the start house. We just missed the Swiss team; but we saw skiers from: the Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia, Germany, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Austria, France, and Italy. We got autographs from many of them. The Italians were especially friendly. I got my photo with Matteo Marsaglia and 2011 Super-G world championship gold medalist Christof Innerhofer. Marsaglia gave us one of his photo postcards. I also had my picture taken with Austrian skier Bjoern Sieber, who recently moved up from the junior squad and was here for world championship experience.
A funny story about meeting Christof Innerhofer...my husband started asking the skiers their names so that he could decipher their autographs. When we saw the very tall Italian skier, my husband said, "Excuse me, what's your name?" When he replied that he was Christof Innerhofer, I congratulated him on his gold medal from yesterday and wished him good luck in the downhill race on Saturday. He was very nice and let my husband take a photo of him and me together. It turned out that Innerhofer had the fastest training run today, showing that his gold medal in the Super-G was no fluke.
When the racers all departed, it was time to go to the finish area to watch the training races. After the first 30 racers did their runs, we started seeing some of the racers who had already completed their training runs starting to leave the area: Eric Guay and Jan Hudek from Canada, Swiss veteran Ambrosi Hoffman, and top Slovenian downhillers Andrej Sporn and Alex Gorza. We got to speak a little bit with the Canadian skiers. I noticed that Hudek skis on Rossignols, which is what my skis are. He told me that my skis looked nicer than his. I replied that his skis were much faster. Eric Guay said that he spoke a little bit of Norwegian. He told us that the universal language on the pro ski tour is German. More pro skiers speak German than English, which makes sense because there are so many from German-speaking countries. The two Slovenians had a friend with them who took a photo of my husband and me with them. Then it was time to head home.
In the gondola station I saw a female Austrian skier. We got into the gondola after hers and saw her at the top outside the station after we got off. It was one of the big Austrian stars, Michaela Kirchgasser. She seemed friendly and gave us an autograph and let my husband take a photo of me with her. My husband also got a photo of Swiss speed specialist Dominique Gisin and her autograph. It turned out that he had ridden in the same gondola with her on Monday and had chatted with her quite a bit. He told me that she spoke perfect English and hardly had an accent.
The skiers that we approached were all so gracious about signing autographs and having their pictures taken. Even big stars like Innerhofer and Kirchgasser were happy to do it. In the States it seems like most of the big sports stars charge for their autographs. But the skiers, who are major stars in their countries (especially Austria and Switzerland), let fans have their autographs for free. The only skier who snubbed the fans was US star Bode Miller, which wasn't really a surprise. My son was in school during the men's training session. But he was so thrilled when I showed him all of the autographs we got in our little booklet.
I just got tickets to see the men's slalom race on the 20th. It's the last race of the world championships and to me the most interesting. There are about 10 skiers who have good chances to earn a medal. Slalom is also the most technically challenging of the 5 Alpine skiing disciplines. In the past I thought that slalom was the most boring discipline until I realized just how tough it really is. I'm looking forward to seeing that race.