Hosp hopes to reach the pinnacle of her comeback during the big show near home

13 December 2010 07:29

After being riddled by injuries – first breaking her shinbone in Zagreb in 2009, then tearing right knee ligaments in Soelden last year and ending her season plus getting another scare this September with a second training fall that strained the same knee – Nicole Hosp is surging back.

Having won the World Cup overall in 2007 and finishing second to Lindsey Vonn in 2008, Hosp is focusing solely on slalom and giant slalom during her comeback season and has her targets zeroed in on the world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, just 20 kilometers from her hometown, Bichlbach, Austria.

Finally able to start training on skis again this summer, the 27-year-old started the season in Soelden with a higher bib number then she’s had in quite some time (36).

She finished the first run in 32nd, just two tenths of a second away from qualifying for the second run. The real display of how far she’s come – and how many of her skiing skills are still intact – came in Levi. In her most successful discipline and wearing bib No. 12, Hosp blazed to fifth place. And if that wasn’t proof enough that she is still capable of finishing on top, there was more evidence on the steep, technical giant slalom and slalom courses in Aspen.

Once again wearing bib No. 36, Hosp charged to a seventh-place finish in the giant slalom that eliminated 12 racers in the first run and six in the second, then shined even brighter in the slalom, finishing just over a tenth of a second off the podium in fifth.

“I’m really happy,” Hosp said in Aspen. “These are some of my first races after my injury and it works really good until now. The summer for me was very important to make good training to [get] in good shape for the championships. It’s my big goal for this year. All the races before for me are just training for the championships.”

In Sunday’s GS in St. Moritz, this time wearing bib No. 27, Hosp was firing down the first run and was about a half second out at the first split, but hooked a pole on a gate that tore it out of her hand, lost precious time and skied down without a pole, finishing 34th and just out of qualifying range. But there is no question her speed is there … and that is what reassures her after her long period of recovery over the last year.

“At the beginning it’s very hard to say how is it after injury, if you can ski anymore, or is it going to be hard to learn again,” she said. “I had another break in September [after the training injury] on the glacier. It was not that bad but I had to start again in October from the beginning. But I’m fine, my knee is a little bit hurting sometimes – just when it’s bumpy. But it’s good. That it works so well until now, it’s really great for me. I feel that very soon I can ski good again.”

And time is at least not standing still anymore for Hosp, although it felt like it all through last season, especially on the weekends when her heart was tugging to race.

“During the week it was OK, then on the weekend when the races were on the TV it was always a hard time,” she said. “But you have to say it’s now you’re time [to heal] and it will come another time and you can fight with the girls again.”

Hosp’s family helped her through that heavy bout of recovery, and luckily, right before her knee injury that sidelined her for the whole season, a new friend came into Hosp’s life: Aila. the German Shepherd. This provided a welcome distraction.

“She is very young, we [got] her last year in the summer, so it’s a lot of work with her so I had enough time last winter to do that,” Hosp said. “It was fun. And very good for my health. She is very focused on me. She is always very sad when I’m gone.”

Aila stays with Hosp’s parents while she is on the World Cup tour but will make an appearance at some of the races this season, surely at the world championships, along with the large cheering section coming from Hosp’s hometown.

As far as getting back on top, Hosp’s teammate Marlies Schild – sidelined for the entire 2009 season but last year coming back to win an Olympic silver medal and several slalom races – has provided a shining example for Hosp.

“It was really motivation for me to see what she did,” Hosp said of Schild. “I was really happy for her because I know what it’s like having an injury and coming back. I was always hoping I could do that like her. And yeah, I’m on the best way.”

And although landing a handful of top 10s in her first races back this season has given her a confidence boost, results are not important to Hosp this season … just those two that are part of the big show close to home.

“Results don’t matter. I just want to make good races, showing my best skiing,” she said. “My big goal is just the championships. There I want to fight for medals.”

by Shauna Farnell