Alpine Young Guns: Wendy Holdener
By Michael Mastarciyan
In his heyday entertainment legend Frank Sinatra was known as a “triple threat” because he could sing, dance and act.
The alpine ski racing world has also had its share of “triple threats” over time – incredible athletes with the ability to reach the podium in three different events.
Last February in Crans Montana, Switzerland a new alpine star was born in the “triple threat” universe – an explosive young 17-year-old racer who dazzled the crowds at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships by taking home three medals in three events over a three day period.
The supernova in question is Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener and now, at 18, she is the reigning junior world gold medalist in combined, silver medalist in downhill and bronze medalist in giant slalom.
Holdener’s alpine skiing ability doesn’t stop with those three events though.
The young skier who grew up racing in Unteriberg, Switzerland has also had success in slalom, having taken 2nd place at a Europa Cup race last January in St. Sebastian, Austria.
And if that wasn’t enough, she took 2nd at a star-studded FIS super-G race early last April that included names like Jacquemod, Rolland, Marchand-Arvier, Ruiz-Castillo and Worley.
“Quintuple-threat” as a term, may lack the zing and panache of “triple-threat” and all the ultra-cool Sinatra-esque baggage it carries with it – but in time – it may be the only accurate way of describing the young star who also scored World Cup points five times last season – in three different events - slalom, super combined and downhill.
We caught up with Wendy recently and she agreed to answer a few questions about her ability to multi-task both on and off the slopes…
MM: Okay Wendy, I’ve just compared you to Frank Sinatra, the big question on everyone’s mind is do you listen to his music?
WH: No, I never listen to Frank Sinatra. That’s not my kind of music (she says with a big smile).
MM: I’ve called you a “triple threat” because you won medals in combined, DH and GS at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships. Can you think of three other things you are also really good at outside of skiing?
WH: 1. I’m really good at enjoying my free time – for me that’s a treat. 2. I really like playing football (soccer) but unfortunately I do not have much time for this hobby of mine any more. 3. I am also pretty good at organizing my life myself.
MM: What about things you are not a threat in – can you tell us about 3 things you’re NOT very good at doing?
WH: 1. I don’t speak French very well unfortunately. 2. I am often very impatient. 3. I often do not hear my phone ringing.
MM: You had success in all five alpine events last season across the board, from FIS races to Junior Worlds, to Europa Cup and even World Cup – do you see yourself as a five event racer?
WH: Actually I consider myself an all-rounder, only I am not equally strong in all disciplines. I first need to establish myself in slalom and then I can try and work up onto the top, step-by-step, in the other events.
MM: Were you surprised when you took home three medals from Worlds?
WH: Yes, I was very surprised and definitely was not expecting that. In the downhill I was hoping for a medal after taking 4th in training twice and was then very happy with my 2nd place. In giant slalom I dreamt about a medal but with bib number 23 I just concentrated on skiing well and achieving a good result. When I was in the finish and saw that I had posted the 3rd best time I was speechless. In the 2nd run I went for it and was elated to be able to defend my 3rd place. I was very happy and surprised about that. In the slalom on the next day I could only beat myself because slalom is my best event. Unfortunately it was only enough for th 4th place. But for that I won the combined ranking.
MM: You won your Junior World medals over three days and almost had a fourth medal when you finished in 4th place in Slalom – how does one get the energy to be so successful in such a short span of time?
WH: I was really looking forward to the Junior Worlds. The atmosphere in the team was superb and I was feeling good. I was supported by my family and friends during the entire time. They celebrate with me when I am doing well and are there for me when it is not going so well.
MM: Did you get a chance to celebrate you successes in Crans Montana or did you have to wait ‘til later – I heard you were quite the busy racer zipping 800kms for a World Cup Slalom race in Arber-Zwiesel, Germany the next day and then 950kms in the other direction to Courchevel, France for a Europa Cup GS a few days later?
WH: I really celebrated after the race at the medal award ceremony. But in the evening things were normal again, and I was looking forward to the next day. The trip to Arber Zwiesel was, in retrospect, maybe a bit useless. I slept a bit in the car but it was a really hard trip. And then I went out in the first run. When I got back home I had to continue on again – the month of February was a really tough month.
MM: The ability to ski successfully in technical and speed events is a rare talent – is there a secret to this? Do you have any advice for other aspiring racers who want success in tech and speed events?
WH: No there is no secret to that. I am better in the technical events but I like to ski the speed events every now and then too. I like the speed and the variability. The best thing is being able to do what you feel like doing.
MM: Lara Gut, who is two years older than you, has been tremendously successful in both tech and speed events at the World Championship and World Cup levels with victories and podiums in Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom and Super-Combined. Has she been an inspiration to you?
WH: I would of course like to be as successful as Lara is. But I would also like to pave my own way to success.
MM: Did you have a ski racing idol growing up?
WH: Didier Cuche – he is an excellent skier and has a great personality. I really like him and would like to be as successful as he is.
MM: What are the three most important things you learned last season?
WH: I learned that I have to listen to my body and sometimes take a break when I need one. I also learned to really enjoy and appreciate the time that I have with my family, boyfriend and friends. And I learned how important it is to remain yourself even when you are on TV every now and then.
MM: What’s the best piece of advice you received last season and who did it come from?
WH: The best tip I have received I got from Andrea Dettling in Aspen last year. But what it was I won’t tell – in any case it really helped me.
MM: You’re still in school studying hotel management – is it difficult juggling school with ski racing?
WH: Sometimes it is difficult when you don’t feel like going to school but would just like to stay at home or when you don’t feel like doing your homework but would rather watch TV. But sometimes it’s really a welcome change for me. In school I’m not thinking about skiing, I find some distance and enjoy the time with my schoolmates.
MM: Given you spend a lot of time in hotels as a ski racer – is there anything you would do differently if you were managing a hotel some day to make hotel life better for ski racer guests and the rest of us non-racers?
WH: I would offer free wireless in hotels.
MM: Is there a famous hotel somewhere in the world you’d like to stay at some day and why?
WH: I mostly prefer to be at home rather than in a hotel but if I have to pick a hotel, it would be somewhere on the ocean where it is beautiful and warm.
MM: Speaking of travel – have you had chance to do any off-season travel this spring/summer that didn’t involve skiing or training?
WH: In the spring I spent a week in Eqypt with my boyfriend doing nothing and enjoying the warmth. In the summer I took a city trip with my oldest brother who is currently working in London. I also spent five days with my family in Italy. It was great and as I said I really know how to enjoy my time off.
Wendy on vacation in Egypt
Wendy with brother Kevin
Wendy with mom and brother Kevin on vacation
Wendy with brother Steve in London