Lindsey Vonn’s shin may have become one of the top stories of the Winter Olympics so far in Alpine Skiing but her experienced rival Swede Anja Paerson is quietly getting ready for the up-coming snow battles.
The 28-year-old Swede is the most successful women on the tour with her seven World Championships titles, two Overall World Cup titles and her Olympic gold medal in slalom four years ago at Sestriere ahead of the best specialists from the last decade including Croatia’s skiing ‘wondergirl’ Janica Kostelic.
Pärson is in contention again this time around expecting to be fighting once more for gold and glory in what could be her last Olympics - if not even her last medal events.
A series of strong results in January on the World Cup tour in four disciplines including giant slalom reinforced Anja’s moral and motivation. She is definitely aiming for more success in the coming weeks at Whistler Mountain. So far the skier from Taernaby already captured a total of 12 medals at FIS World Championships and Olympics since 2001.
“I’m really happy to be here and I feel ready for an exciting fortnight here,” Paerson told the press at a media conference a few days ago. “I have been training well in a lovely place situated south of Oestersund where I successfully prepared my wonderful Åre World Championships,” she added. “It was great to be again among good friends, training hard in a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s exactly what I needed prior coming here.”
“I feel calm and in good harmony now, I like the course here, I like the slope, the snow is a little bit more like spring snow and
I feel very comfortable like that.”
Anja tried too hard at Val d’Isère
Anja Pärson managed to win medals at all the major events from 2001 to 2007 to become the only women having clinched gold medals in all five alpine events yet she failed to reach a podium a year ago at the Val d’Isère FIS World Championships.
“I think I tried too hard to win there, I skied too aggressively,” she explained. “It was the wrong tactic. It worked well for me when I was younger to be very determined and even mean but now I need another approach. I believe to be more efficient now with a more relaxed attitude.”
“I know I have the potential to win gold on a good day but I don’t want to put too much pressure on me for the moment. I rather enjoy the Olympic experience here. I’m happy to be in the Olympic village with so many athletes - it’s fun. You meet some very interesting people at the gym and I’m looking forward to celebrate some medals with colleagues from other sports.”
“I spoke with Maria Riesch and Emily Brydon the other day. They both live in a private accommodation outside the village. In my opinion, they are missing a great part of the very particular Olympic atmosphere. You can’t treat those races as World Cup races. They are special and it’s important to get that special approach to be fully ready to achieve your potential at the given moment.”
“I’m lucky to have already won several Olympic medals including one in gold so I can look for something different here – that special emotion of full accomplishment and contentment that I missed four years ago at Sestriere as I was injured. I skied well but I have been struggling a lot that week because of strong pains at a knee. I was not able to ski the way I was aiming for and I was not able to totally enjoy my victory.”
“That’s why I’m happy to be feeling calmer and more comfortable nowadays. I’m ready for a series of intense races. I believe I can achieve a lot here with that strong sense of harmony that I’m feeling now.”
“I know that I’m ready to go for it. My equipment is ready, my mindset is ready and I’m not worried because of the unusual snow condition here. I skied in the same kind of snow and weather conditions in Sweden in recent weeks, I don’t mind soft snow. I may use again longer racing skis as I did in St. Moritz if I see that the y fit with the slope here.”
Ski racers are tough
A 12-year-veteran on the World Cup tour, Anja won’t let herself be distracted by the recent headline news of Lindsey Vonn’s shin injury. Vonn threw doubt on her participation in the Games earlier this week when describing her injury on her arrival at Vancouver, but a day later she was on her skis and ready for downhill training.
Although that training session was cancelled due to fog and snow, Pärson noted the presence of Vonn and believes it was a sign she will be ready. “Lindsey went up today so I don’t see her as injured. She was pretty much doing what everyone else was doing,” Pärson also explained during her news conference on Thursday.
“I can’t say how serious it is. I just saw her in the bib so in my mind she is not injured because she is up at the start line. I have been skiing with Lindsey a long time and know she is a big fighter, she doesn’t want to back down just because she has pain.
“That is the way we are, Alpine skiers, pretty much everyone of us have pain somewhere and we go out there and fight,” she added. “Janica, you saw her knees were huge sometimes but then she went down and skied one second faster than everyone else – sometimes an injury can help you achieve something bigger because you are focusing on other stuff than the race.”
Pärson, who also won bronze in downhill and combined in Turin in 2006, says it is understandable that Vonn is regarded as clear favourite in the downhill. “Of course, why shouldn’t people speak only of her – she has won five downhill races, she has pretty much been the one to beat. But for the rest of us, in the downhill, we don’t see that it is only about beating her, there are five or six girls that I know who could win a gold medal – I don’t look just at Lindsey Vonn and I know nobody else does,” also said the Swede.
“When I won eleven times in a season, people asked me then if I was unbeatable but somebody beat me - you are never unbeatable. Of course you can have a great season and Lindsey has had two really great seasons last year and this year – but nobody is going to back down from the challenge of trying to beat her in the downhill.”
What ever is happening here this month –Anja will be once again a top contender, as she always was in the last decade.