Saturday, February 12, 2011

World Championship Stories

While the media focuses only on the top athletes at the Alpine Skiing World Championships, I think that every skier has his or her own story. It doesn't matter if that skier is a gold medalist or the last place finisher from a small country who is just here for the experience. Here are some interesting stories about some of the skiers at the World Championships:

Erik Guay (Canada): This season has not been his best due to a back injury. But as the Austrian commentator on ORF said, "Erik Guay and Garmisch go hand-in-hand." Two out of his three World Cup wins have been on the Garmisch Kandahar course, one in a downhill and the other in a Super-G. On Wednesday he had a poor performance in the Super-G and wasn't among the favorites for the downhill. But he had a blistering run in today's downhill. Guay ended up breaking the course record and winning World Championship gold. As I said in my last entry, Guay also speaks a little bit of Norwegian. It seems like commentators can't figure out how to pronounce his name. The German-speaking ones say, "Gay" and the English speakers say, "Guy."

Werner Heel (Italy): My son has a friend whose father has a house in the Italian Suedtirol (Southern Tirol) on the Italy-Austria border. Werner Heel is the friend's father's neighbor. Last summer Heel gave my son's friend extra Italian ski team posters and photo cards so that my son could have some.

Sarah Schleper (USA): In addition to being one of the oldest women on the pro skiing tour (32 next Saturday), Schleper is also a mother. She has a three-year-old son named Lasse. He was named after Norwegian great Lasse Kjus. Schleper is a slalom and giant slalom specialist whose ritual before each run is to let out a scream or war cry.

Aksel Lund Svindal (Norway) and Julia Mancuso (USA): They are dating each other. Mancuso spent last Christmas at Svindal's home in Norway. Mancuso also has a lingerie line called "Kiss My Tiara." At the 2010 Olympics Mancuso wore a small tiara under her helmet.

Benjamin Raich (Austria) and Marlies Schild (Austria): Raich and Schild are engaged to each other.

Anja Paerson (Sweden): Paerson is one of the all-time greats. After winning the bronze medal in yesterday's super-combined, she broke the all-time women's record for World Championship and Olympic medals. She has 17 individual medals and one team medal. Only Norwegian star Kjetil Andre Aamodt has more with 20. She earned medals in 3 Olympics (2002, 2006, 2010) and 5 World Championships (2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011). She is the first skier in history, male or female, to have World Championship gold medals in all 5 Alpine events.

Dominique Gisin (Switzerland): Her helmet has photos of various children on it. When my husband asked if the kids in the photos were family members, she said, "No." Gisin has a website where fans can send photos of their children. If her fans like the photos, she will wear them on her helmet in competition. Gisin speaks perfect, almost unaccented, English. She placed 4th in yesterday's super-combined race.

Ivica Kostelic (Croatia): Kostelic is currently leading the overall World Cup standings. If he ends up winning the overall title, he will be part of the second brother-sister pair to win World Cup overall titles. His sister Janica won World Cup overall titles in 2001, 2003, and 2006. In 1980 Andreas and Hanni Wenzel of Liechtenstein won World Cup overall titles. He would also become the first Croatian man to win a World Cup overall title.

Patrick Jaerbyn (Sweden): At age 41 he's the oldest competitor at the World Championships. He has been competing in World Championships since 1996. In the 2007 World Championships he won a bronze medal and became the oldest podium finisher in a world championship at 37. In December 2008, at age 39 years and 9 months, he became the oldest podium finisher in a World Cup race.

David Chodounsky (USA): Chodounsky was not a full member of the US ski team at the beginning of the season. His father was traveling with him and financing him so that he could compete. He earned his first World Cup points this season in a slalom race in Wengen, Switzerland and was so excited when he finished the second run. It was a refreshing change to see the joy on his face at getting points because so many of the big stars pout when they don't win a race. Here is a video of that run. Chodounsky's nickname is "Chowder."

Daniel Albrecht (Switzerland): I'm saving the most inspirational story for last. Two years ago during downhill training in Kitzbuehel, Austria, Albrecht lost control on the last jump and landed in a heap by the finish. He had to be put into a coma to prevent his brain from swelling. Nobody knew if he would have permanent brain damage or if he would even be able to walk again. Here is the video of that crash.  At the beginning of this season Albrecht came back and was good enough to make the mighty Swiss Alpine skiing team. In his first race coming back from his horrific injury, a giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colorado, he placed 21st and was thrilled about earning World Cup points. He has happy to be back racing and has a new perspective. For him it doesn't matter if he gets on the podium or even places high enough to earn World Cup points (the top 30 get points).  Here is his comeback race. The commentary is in German. A loose translation is that he placed 21st in the race and was very surprised at how well he did considering that he hadn't raced for two years and also that he was close to 2 seconds behind winner Ted Ligety in the qualification run. Daniel Albrecht is one of the best comeback stories in sports.

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