Alpine Young Guns: Matteo Marsaglia

13 June 2011 09:30

By Michael Mastarciyan

They’re not calling him Italian Stallion just yet, but if 25-year old Roman racer Matteo Marsaglia continues on the upward trend he’s currently on, he just might become alpine ski racing’s next big “southern-Italian” speed event thoroughbred.

Marsaglia, the only “southerner” on an Italian alpine speed squad loaded with racers from the country’s mostly German speaking Sudtirol region in the north is coming off a very promising 2010/2011 season - one that included a World Cup career best 7th place finish at the second of two downhills held at Kvitfjell, Norway last March.

“My 7th place at Kvitfjell was the most exciting thing in my life. I’ve loved the piste in Kvitfjell since I first raced on it in 2008. I had done some good partial times in the training runs and the first downhill race, but with too many mistakes. I knew I was improving and that I could have a good race, but to have such a good result starting with bib number 52 with visibility not at its best, I admit I was not expecting it, it really was fantastic,” Marsaglia says.

The fact that Marsaglia doesn’t hail from the north is often a topic of gentle ribbing from teammates – but never enough to stop him from wearing his Roman colours proudly, especially – as I’ve witnessed first-hand - when topics like Serie A Football (Roma is Marsaglia’s squad) are brought up.

“I’m so proud of my Roman origins and even though I spend most of my time now on the beautiful slopes of San Sicario, Rome is still in my heart and once I finish racing I’d really like to go back there to live. If you’ve been to Rome you can understand quite easily why. I would like to make skiing popular in that part of Italy and prove that even if you are born in a place where there are no mountains you can still became a good skier.”

Despite his affection for The Eternal City, Marsaglia nevertheless also has roots in the northern part of Italy and is quite proud of them too.

“I was born in Rome and lived there until I was 14 but as far as skiing is concerned I was born and raised in San Sicario. My father’s family moved to Rome from Turin about 50 years ago, but never stopped going back to Piemonte. My father was also an athlete, a ski instructor and trainer and it was his love of skiing that took him to San Sicario at the age of 20 to become a trainer for Ski Club San Sicario, a role he partially gave up to return to Rome when me, my brother Eugenio and my sister Francesca were born. But we always kept going back to San Sicario and I’ve been skiing and racing there since I was 3-years-old often travelling 8 to 9 hours to get there from Rome for training and races. When I was 14 with my skiing commitments constantly growing, and having to start high school my family decided to move to Piemonte to be able to follow our love of skiing (my brother was also a very good racer and my sister competes on the ladies side of the World Cup). Oddly enough, it was my mother who is a true Roman, and who doesn’t ski, who first put me on skis!”

Marsaglia’s first tracks on the World Cup tour came in February 2008 at a super combined race in Val d’Isere, France where he finished with a very respectable 16th place. But his progress was unfortunately hampered by a succession of injuries that kept him out of the top-30 until last December when he finished 25th at the Val Gardena-Groeden World Cup Super-G.

“In one of my last races of the 2007/2008 season, the downhill at the Swiss Championships in St Moritz, I had a nasty fall and apart from injuries to my face and head, I fractured my tibia, the collateral ligaments and meniscus in my right knee. To get myself fit and back on the same level as my teammates as soon as possible and to be able to go to Argentina for off-season on snow training, I overdid the rehabilitation with exaggerated work loads during the summer and by November 2009 I had the tendons of both knees so inflamed that I couldn’t even manage to go up and down stairs. I tried resting and looking after myself for a month and went back to skiing in January 2010, but it wasn’t enough and later that month I had to have both knees operated on. My right knee healed well, the left one less so and all of last season it gave me problems. Even now I continue with physiotherapy and at last it seems to be on the mend,” Marsaglia says.

Then, late last January, things started to look up for Marsaglia when he began to string together a series of top-30s which included at 30th place finish at the terror-inducing Kitzbuehel Hahnenkamm downhill and a 9th in Combined at the same hill.

“I think it must be impossible for any skier to put his poles outside the starting gate at Kitz and not feel some sort of fear, perhaps with time and experience fear is transformed into huge respect, and I can assure you for the first time, when you are not sure what you are up against, it is frightening. In 2009 I had my first experience at Kitz, following a fall in a downhill in Bormio where I had hurt my heel badly. I couldn’t even manage to put my ski boots on and I had to forgo the race in Wengen, but I was desperate to be present at Kitz, so despite the fact that I hadn’t skied for a month I departed for Kitzbuehel, but I wasn’t physically ready to take on the legendary Streif, and I didn’t finish either the downhill or Super-G. It was an incredible experience though. The funny thing is that before your first time down The Streif you don’t know what to expect, but then after your first time down the run, you know even less! The good thing is that when you finally pass the finish line safe and sound you realize that you have done the most exciting thing possible on skis!”

With some good results at The Hahnenkamm and the confidence that comes with that, Marsaglia collected points in his next three races at Chamonix, France and Hinterstoder, Austria before being told he would have to honour of racing for his country at the World Championships held at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in February where he finished in 15th place.

“To be one of the four Italians to take part in the World Championships in my favourite discipline super-G was hugely satisfying, but after skiing the freeskiing the piste the day before the race, I realized that I could and had to do well on that piste, particularly the way it was prepared - lumpy and icy. The day of the race I had a start number of 25, so I had time to watch the first competitors on the television at the start gate and I realized that the course was more insidious than what me and my team mates had seen during inspection. Then I saw Inner’s (Christof Innerhofer) run and I turned to Ales Kalamar our Rossignol ski man and said, ‘There is the new super-G world champion.’ Inner had a superb run and that encouraged me even more. I started and the feeling with my skis and the piste was superb, at last I was skiing in a race the way I wanted, I arrived at a critical point of the race and I made a big mistake, but managed to continue on well, I thought I’d thrown the race away, but when I got to the bottom and read that I was well up in the classification, I was amazed, I stayed 15th and for me this was a great result for my first World Championships, and above all gave me good points and the possibility of better start numbers in the future.”

Despite the positive results during the second half of last season, Marsaglia confesses that he’s a still work-in-progress and jokingly admits that the 2010/1011 version of himself is a far cry from the greenhorn who began his World Cup career in the late winter of 2008.

“The Matteo of 2008 wanted to get too far too soon and this ambition led to mistakes and often to falls. He needed to improve technically, physically and most of all needed experience on the World cup pistes - pistes that were vastly different from those of the European Cup. The Matteo of 2011 is a more mature Matteo, one that wants to grow slowly and surely, race after race. After a season like last season he has gained valuable experience, is more aware of his possibilities and wants to grow a step at a time hoping to get to the highest level possible.”

With next season still on the distant horizon, Marsaglia has been spending his off-season doing dry-land training, physiotherapy and a little bit of “surf-therapy.”

“Last season was hugely satisfying, but it was long and tiring in that I was competing on the World Cup circuit, the European Cup and in some FIS races, so when it got to April I really didn’t want to see snow any more - I needed the sea! So after a few weeks at home dedicated to physiotherapy on my knee and planning my summer training, I escaped for two weeks to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, a place I love and where I have been to three times before to surf, a passion I have had for a few years but for obvious reasons have little time to do. I hope to get a few more days surfing either on the French or Spanish Atlantic coast before I go to Argentina for on-snow camp. After the waves and sun to warm up my bones after all the cold I felt last winter, I came back to Italy and I started training hard, dividing my time between cycling, roller, athletics, gym and a bit of mountain biking. I will put my skis back on for a week on the 18th June in Les 2 Alpes, then another small training session on a glacier and in a snow dome between July and August, but most of our training will be done Ushuaia in Argentina from the mid-August to mid-September.”

Matteo Marsaglia warms up his frozen bones with a little off-season sun, sand and surfing in the Canary Islands after a promising winter on the slopes of the White Circus.