Way Back When ... with Tanja Poutiainen
Tanja Poutiainen is the oldest athlete on the women’s World Cup tech tour these days. In giant slalom in particular, there is a wave of young athletes burning up course after course. Yet the 31-year-old Finn (32 this April) can still hang.
As a testament to her deep history as a professional racer, Poutiainen has competed in a whopping eight world championships (beginning in Sestriere in 1997), in which she’s earned a total of four medals, has raced in four Olympic games beginning in Nagano in 1998, throughout which she earned one silver in the Sestriere giant slalom in 2006. She has had 220 World Cup starts dating back to Vail 1997 and has notched a total of 46 podiums including 11 victories.
This season started a little rocky for Poutiainen. At the season opener in Soelden, she skied off-course and took her first ‘DNF’ in about five years. The same happened in the Flachau slalom (which she won last year), plus she wasn’t entirely happy with her GS form until the Kranjska Gora race, where she landed her first top 10 of the season in the discipline.
Last weekend in Andorra, she was on her way to her first victory of the season, leading the Soldeu slalom after the first run and tearing down the second with a green light until running into an unlucky blast of wind that blew her off course. Still, Poutiainen is right up there with the best of them. She took second in both the Courchevel and Kranjska slaloms this season and missed the Aspen slalom podium by just a hair. In Kranjska, she earned the Golden Fox award for fastest combined time of both the slalom and GS races. Not only does she still know how to finish on top after all these years, but she continues to relish each and every accomplishment.
“I enjoy a lot every single podium – even if I have [just] some of them,” she said following her most recent podium in the very demanding Kranjska Gora slalom, in which she also earned the Golden Fox award for fastest combined times in both the GS and slalom. “It’s such hard work to be there in the top three. I know it and I enjoy it once when I’m there again.”
When looking back on her 14 years of racing on the World Cup, especially as a tech specialist, Poutiainen has seen the courses become tighter and more technical, necessitating not only different equipment, but different technique.
“The courses have changed a little. In GS and slalom they are tighter ,skis are shorter, the speeds are not that high, but it’s more technical,” she said. “Technique and equipment are improving year after year.”
Thus, Poutianen has had to modify her technique to adapt in kind, something that comes easier to younger skiers who haven’t built their foundation on totally different equipment.
“Even if I’ve been on top many years, I have to improve every single year. I cannot win with the same skiing as last year … that’s a fact,” she says. “Young racers learn the carving skis right away. They are just coming in and charging everything. I have to keep fighting so they don’t just run away from me.”