Way Back When ... with Anja Paerson
Anja Paerson will go down in the books as one of the greatest, most memorable ski racers of all time. After 14 years of racing on the World Cup, the 30-year-old Swede announced her retirement at the 2012 World Cup Finals in Schladming.
In her ski career that included 42 World Cup victories, 95 podiums and 19 Olympic and world championship medals, Paerson has been not just a force on the race hill but in the entire universe of the sport.
For her final race in Schladming, she was mobbed by her teammates who all joined her in a final belly slide, Paerson’s signature victory celebration over the years.
In between her dozens of belly slides, Paerson has seen a lot of changes on the World Cup. Although she started out as a slalom skier, in her later years, she excelled most in the speed disciplines, and it’s here that she’s seen the most changes.
“For a few years we didn’t have any jumps and it was slow, then we had a few years where we were skiing almost 150 kilometers per hour,” she recalls. “The courses now are never over 100 K on average. I wish it could be faster. It’s turnier now with less big turns. It’s not often we do over 130 clicks. Sometimes we want to reach that speed but I also understand we have to slow down the speed for the safety.”
Otherwise, Paerson says, the movement of the World Cup lifestyle has become faster.
“Everything is faster nowadays like it is in all life,” she says. “Before I guess we had more time to sit down and be more like a World Cup family. Now everyone is rushing off to the next place. It’s more money, more efficient. It’s good and bad. Back in the day, I trained really hard but it was a more relaxed situation. After a race, even if we didn’t drink much alcohol, everyone was sitting down and you had time to enjoy it, sitting down with the coaches and taking a beer and just … enjoying it.”
Paerson doesn’t regret much of her spectacular career … but she does wish she had spent a little more time celebrating.
“After winning as much as I did in the middle of my career, I’m pretty sad I didn’t enjoy my wins too much,” she says. “I was just running off to the next one and the next one.”
When asked to look back and name the highlights, for Paerson, there are almost too many to hone in on.
“I had an awesome career – a lot of memories,” she says. “Some highlights were the World Champs at home in Are with the downhill, super-combined and super G win. Also the Olympics, the bronze medal after that crash is one of my biggest achievements. Also how I pushed myself to achieve so much to be at that level all the time … that’s the proudest thing for myself, my results but also my professionalism. I always gave my best.”
Many will remember Paerson’s hideous crash off the last jump of the Vancouver 2010 downhill course, where she flew the length of a football field, pedaling her arms and crashing onto her back, skis exploding off as she rolled across the finish line. Paerson has been lucky to not have sustained major injuries after these sorts of mishaps.
Her heart is very much still into the sport, as evidenced by comments like those she made during final downhill in Schladming. Watching from the finish area was very difficult.
“It was fun to watch the men’s race, but it was not fun to watch the women’s race,” she said. “I felt like I could win.”
Paerson’s body, however, is telling her a different story.
“In 2006 I had a goal to stop at the Olympics in Vancouver, but when I came to Vancouver, with all the things that happened there, I was loving my life too much in the World Cup. I decided to keep on going,” she says. “This year I felt something was missing. I started to realize something was missing, In my body, I understood it’s time. I lost my instincts as a racer.”
From what she’s seen over the years, Paerson – who hasn’t decided what her next step will be – has some ideas of how to keep the World Cup exciting for years to come.
“We need to see changes, you need to put in new things,” she says. “The parallel is coming around. It’s a great way to have a show for the fans. Also, skiing has to learn a lot about technology, cool things you can do with a GPS and stuff like that. I want to see if the fans can come closer, get the feeling of our heartbeat, how tired we actually are in the finish area. We need to push the limits and ski the way we can really ski – push for 60-meter jumps, keep the intensity and danger in the sport.”
As far as what she wants the world to remember about her and her contribution to history, Paerson has this to say.
“I hope I leave a memory of being involved, being that person who tries to race a fair race and give everyone a good second chance. I’ve always been passionate about skiing inside the family. I want to be remembered not only for my way of skiing but also for the family inside the World Cup. It’s easy to stay on start and do the races, give criticism to what’s been wrong. But if you don’t try to change, it doesn’t mean anything. I tried to change, to give everything I had to make the skiing better for the ladies to race. I’m proud of the way I tried to do that the last couple of years.”
See what else Paerson has to say in this video looking back on the World Cup.
By Shauna Farnell