Alpine Young Guns: Elena Curtoni
By Michael Mastarciyan
Do you remember what you wanted for your twentieth birthday?
For my twentieth birthday I wanted a Sony Walkman, and I’m pretty sure it’s not radically different for twenty-year-olds these days who are probably wishing for the popular electronic goodies of their generation like iPods and iPads as they blow the candles out on their cakes before moving on to unwrapping gifts.
But cool electronic gadgets like the ones I just mentioned were not high priorities on Italian ski racing prodigy Elena Curtoni’s birthday wish list this year. All Curtoni wanted this year – as in most years – was to ski race.
So on February 3rd, Curtoni celebrated her twentieth year with teammates, coaches and some friends at the best birthday venue a young ski racer could ask for - the FIS World Junior Alpine Championships at Crans Montana, Switzerland
Well as many of you probably already know, Curtoni got a wonderful gift two days later – a gold medal in the super-G – a victory that came on the heels of World Cup career best finishes in the same discipline, 10th and 15th place finishes at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy two weeks earlier.
Curtoni’s strong finishes in Cortina and her golden success at Junior Worlds catapulted her onto the biggest stage yet in her young career – the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany – where she would be given the chance to race in the super-G for her country.
Then, on February 8th, a mere 3 days after her gold medal victory at Crans Montana, Curtoni proved she was no fluke and was ready to run with the big guns on the World Cup tour when she tore up the track and finished in 6th place at her first ever World Championship appearance.
Before season’s end Curtoni would take a 26th at a World Cup super-G at Are, Sweden and then a 19th in the same event at the World Cup races held at Tarvisio, Italy in early March – more evidence that she was no flash in the pan.
With another exciting season just a few months away, Curtoni is busy training and prepping to get herself ready for another great ski racing campaign. She recently took a little break however for a little chat about her life on and off the slopes….
MM: Elena, your 20th birthday was just two days before your Super-G gold medal victory at Jr. Worlds in Crans Montana. What did you wish for as a gift this year?
EC: My birthday was pretty fun, but I always have fun on my birthday because I’m usually racing on it! I didn’t have big wishes, but the Super-G gold medal was a really appreciated gift! I like my birthday because it's kind of my day, I can do what I love, eat what I like, sleep when I want and smile all the time!
MM: Tell us more about your 20th birthday at Jr. Worlds at Crans Montana. Did you have any celebrations? Who was there? Teammates, coaches, friends or family? Did you have a cake and blow out any candles?
EC: My birthday in Crans Montana started with racing slalom in the morning (I skied out), a work-out in the afternoon and then dinner out with my teammates. I just had a simple pizza! After dinner we met up with our coaches and had few drinks with them, and then we met some of the Austrian girls and my Norwegian friends Mona Loseth and Lotte Sejersted. Lots of fun! I didn’t have my cake, but I did get some pins from an American coach as presents!
MM: You had 10th and 15th place finishes in Super-G at Cortina and then you won the Super-G gold at Jr. Worlds - how did that feel?
EC: I never imagined I’d be that fast in Cortina, as I’d never raced on that track, but then I got those results and I had the "gold card" for the World Championships in Garmisch. My coaches originally didn’t want me to go to Crans Montana for Junior Worlds, but I wanted to go as it was my last year of junior eligibility and I wanted one last chance to hang with some of my friends on the junior circuit. This year was my first year on the World Cup and it was a big learning experience as it’s really different from what I’m used to but I’m definitely growing accustomed to it. Winning the Super-G gold at Crans Montana, in my last “junior” year made me really proud of myself because I know a lot of champions have won medals at Junior Worlds and I hope that medal will bring me some good luck!
MM: Were you happy to show everybody that you weren't just lucky at Cortina - that you were the "real thing" and your great results were more than just luck or coincidence?
EC: I was more happy about that after Worlds in Garmisch, because I think I showed people that Cortina and Crans Montana weren't just luck or coincidence! However I don't care a lot about what the people think, I am pretty sure about myself, I know that I can go fast, but I wasn't ready to show everyone that I am the "real thing" this year, my first on the World Cup tour!
MM: After Jr. Worlds you got picked to race in the Super-G at the World Championships in Garmisch, was this exciting? What did it feel like to race for your country on such a big stage?
EC: I got picked after my results in Cortina. Italian rules are two top-15s or one top-10 to go to Worlds; in two days I did both. Before getting in I was planning my February after Junior Worlds, and was planning on racing some Europa Cups and to continue training a lot for the rest of the season, but then in 48 hours it all changed! I was really excited!
MM: You finished in 6th in Super-G at World Championships in Garmisch. Even more proof that you are "the real thing.” How satisfying was this?
EC: Did I? 6th?? Who is this fast girl?!? Ahahahah, joking!!! Yes, I was 6th, I learned a lot from this race, during inspection I thought that the course and the slope would take everything I had in my body to succeed, so I gave it my all and it happened, a really good result!
MM: Did you learn anything from these results that you will use this upcoming season?
EC: I did. I learned that passion is the biggest thing in this sport. You have to harness it every race and you need to have it in yourself all the time. I try to enjoy every second of a race because in the end I’m doing what I love – skiing!
MM: Did you learn anything else?
EC: Yes, I also think that it's always important to remind myself that I am lucky to be doing what I am good at, and to continue to have fun because when I have fun I’m usually fast too!
MM: Will you be racing World Cup this year or a mix of Europa Cup and World Cup - what are your plans?
EC: My plans are to race more World Cups, not just SG and DH like last season, but also GS and SL. I’ll probably also race some Europa Cup races too for FIS points.
MM: How has off-season training been coming along? What have you been doing this summer?
EC: My off season has been busy. I’ve been training all spring and summer and will continue till the new race season begins. I’ve also been on snow as I live Les 2 Alpes in summer! MM: Did you treat yourself to a nice holiday in the off-season? What have you been doing for fun this spring and summer? Have you been to any beaches?EC: I wasn't able to go far away places like the Caribbean, but I did spend a few days in Viareggio. It's always nice to sleep in the sand and to relax at the beach!!! Next year I will do something special for sure!MM: I heard you had another talent outside of skiing while you were in elementary school. Care to elaborate?EC: I went to school in Cosio Valtellino and when I was about 6-year-old my teacher told my Mom that I had a talent in art and that I should follow it with extra instruction. So my Mom got me some tutoring with a Spanish artist. My days were spent in school in the morning, skiing in the afternoon and then painting lessons for two or three hours before dinner. I loved it!
MM: Do you still paint?
EC: Yes I do but only on my own. My last school had a strong art focus and when I graduated when I was 17 I had to decide on whether to continue racing or to follow a path to a career as an artist and painter – I picked skiing! After I finish my race career I’ll hopefully return to art and travel the world to expand on my other passion in life!
MM: Do you have any hobbies or sports you like outside of painting and skiing?
EC: Yes, climbing – I love mountains and I love to climb them whenever I can!
MM: What are your first memories about skiing?
EC: I was born in Morbegno, close to my hometown of Cosio Valtellino. My parents say it was snowing really hard the day I was born so I guess it was a sign! I had my first toy skis when I was one. I started to go out on the slopes when I was two. My Dad is a ski coach, but I used to go with my Mom and she says I would never do turns and only wanted to go straight, and I apparently also loved to ski with a pacifier in my mouth!MM: Did you have a ski idol growing up?EC: Growing up I used to look up to Isolde Kostner, she was my idol. When the Italian team used to come to Les 2 Alpes for summer camps; I was the "little boy" on their course!
Elena and both her "brothers" (dog Giove and Davide Simoncelli) with sister Irene
Elena and sister Irene at the Music Jazz Festival in Montreux (SUI)
Elena climbing in July 2011