Europeans enjoying anonymity at Worlds
Special to the Daily
BEAVER CREEK — Unless you’re Lindsey Vonn, recognized wherever you go in Vail and Beaver Creek, being a professional ski racer for the sport’s biggest event is a fairly relaxing affair in the United States.
In the midst of at least 10,000 people in attendance at the women’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championship downhill race on Friday, somehow even Vonn managed to walk the entire way down the slope to the buses after the race, unnoticed by everybody except for one lone girl chasing after her with a camera.
After the men’s training later in the afternoon, Norwegian superstar Aksel Lund Svindal walked directly through the stadium and was stopped only once for an autograph.
The pressure and attention is delightfully light around here for the Europeans, especially for Austrians, whose national sport is alpine skiing and who are routinely mobbed wherever they go when a race is in town.
‘Not like in Austria’
Even those who haven’t landed a medal are appreciating the atmosphere and enthusiasm during the event paired with their relative anonymity afterwards.
“It’s a great experience,” said Austrian Nicole Schmidhofer, who led Friday’s downhill for several minutes before being unseated by the medalists (Tina Maze with gold, Anna Fenninger silver and Lara Gut bronze) and ending up fourth.
“There are a lot of people cheering for everybody, so you feel like a champion when you go in the finish area,” Schmidhofer said. “Then in the evening, nobody knows you, so you can go to the coffee shop and it’s no problem. It’s really great. Not like in Austria. In Schladming [for the 2013 World Championships], it was a problem.”
No other nation envies the pressure on U.S. racers for these events and Anna Fenninger, who, under the pressure of her home World Championships in 2013, skied off course in two of her four races and managed to land only one medal, bronze in giant slalom. She attributes her success thus far at Beaver Creek — gold in Tuesday’s super-G and silver in Friday’s downhill ‚ to the comparably relaxed expectations.
“It’s easier to ski here when there’s not so much media like in Schladming two years ago. It’s a normal race on the World Cup tour. In Schladming, it was the most important race in our life. That makes a lot of pressure to show the best skiing. It’s easier here. For us, it’s great,” Fenninger said.
Dealing with pressure
Although she hails from a country of only about 2 million people, Slovenian Tina Maze is a full-blown national celebrity. As Slovenia’s most successful athlete of all time in any sport, thousands of people take buses from around the country when the World Cup stops in Maribor.
After her gold medal performance in Friday’s downhill, when asked about facing pressure like that of the U.S. Team hosting a championship event, Maze immediately answered, “I won’t have that feeling, ever.”
“Big wishes and big will is hard to handle,” Maze said. “With racing and skiing you need to be relaxed. It’s tricky. If there’s too much pressure, you’re just not relaxed.”
Vonn, who won the bronze medal in Tuesday’s super G and finished fifth Friday didn’t say the pressure got to her but was still apologetic that the throngs of people who came out to see her race didn’t get a better show.
“I was extremely motivated and determined, but it just didn’t go my way,” Vonn said after the race. “I want to thank all the spectators for coming out. I’m really proud to be racing at home. I wish I could have done something better for the public and for my family.”
Vonn will compete in the World Championship giant slalom and super-combined race. She said she has had very little GS training and has not been on slalom skis in two and a half years.
“I still have two more chances,” Vonn said after Friday’s race. “Although my chances are slim, I will definitely be giving 110 percent effort. Hopefully, I will be making a miracle happen.”