What the Olympic spirit means to World Cup women

27 January 2010 21:56

The Olympic Games mean something different for every athlete and the fire of everyone's Olympic dreams sparks at a different time for various reasons. But the common thread among all racers gearing up to compete in Vancouver this February is that the Games represent a chance to shine like they've never done before.

"The Games really show the power of sport," said Canada's Emily Brydon. "It's one of the most amazing events in the world, bringing so many hundreds of athletes together from so many different cultures, from so many different aspects of life just for the true passion of competition and goals and dreams. It's an honor to be part of that movement and to have it in your country. The energy there is really something special and unique."

Swiss racer Martina Schild not only wants to be part of that energy ... and to earn a medal, which is the quintessential evidence of it, but she wants to keep her family's line of trophies coming. The Olympics hold a unique meaning for her because her grandmother, Hedy Schlunegger, won a downhill medal in the 1948 Games in St. Moritz.

"The dream starts in school time," Schild said. "My grandmother won a medal, so that's why it's really special. It's so big. It's a dream from everyone. It's only every fourth year so then you really go for that. You have to make it this year or wait again four years."

The fire of Maria Riesch's dreams was ignited when she watched the Nagano Games in 1998, when the entire combined podium was filled with Germans: Katja Seizinger with gold, Martina Ertl silver and Hilde Gerg bronze.

"I know this picture. It was was snowing hard and three girls with the zebra suits were on the podium having the medals and I was like, 'Wow, that's really cool,'" Riesch recalls. "At that time skiing was really popular and big in Germany and at the time when my career developed it went down a little bit."

When reminded that her success is bringing ski racing back to her country's attention, Riesch said, "I hope so."

Vancouver will be the German's first Olympic Games, as her hopes were dashed just before the 2006 Olympics when she crashed in Aspen, tearing ligaments in her knee that cost her months of recovery. This time around, she said she is in a good position - especially in light of her recent success in giant slalom - to medal in at least one of five events, and that the pressure is not as much on her as it is on her friend Lindsey Vonn.

"I'm in a good role for medals but not the top favorite like Lindsey is," Riesch said. "And maybe this is a little bit of an advantage for me, because she's winning every single[speed] race now and of course the pressure is huge. She has self confidence because she's winning all the races but there's still lots of pressure, so maybe that's an advantage for me. I think I have good chances and the important thing is I have several chances."

Vonn's Olympic dreams began when she met Picabo Street after Street medaled in the 1998 (super G gold) and 1994 (silver in downhill) Games. As for the pressure going into Vancouver, Vonn says, "I've definitely got some backup plans in case I get too nervous."

"For me, it's the mental appraoach that matters ... whether I can attack or not," she said. "If I get too nervous, I'll be more on the defensive. I need to be more offensive ... and that's what it will come down to for me in Whistler."

Then there's athletes coming into Vancouver who have already met their Olympic dreams, like Anja Paerson who has an existing stack of medals - slalom gold in the 2006 Games in Torino, bronze in combined and downhill, plus GS silver and slalom bronze from the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. Still, Olympic dreams never die ... not when you're still a big contender and especially when the dreams began as early as Paerson's.

"Pretty much when I started speaking when I was 2 or 3 years old," the Swede recalls. "My biggest memory was when my hero Vreni Schneider was waving at me in Lillehammer in 1994. That's when my dream really started, when I wanted to be her. My dad was coaching the men so I was there with my family and I wanted to be her, sitting in that chair waving to the kids. That's what really pushed me."

Another Canadian, Britt Janyk, plans to cherish every moment of her first Olympic experience ... in her own country. The spirit of the Games is something she's been addicted to for many years.

"I think '88 [summer] was the first Games I watched," she said. "But I don't really remember it. When I was younger, I was just into skiing. As soon as I got into skiing, I'd watch us [the Canadian alpine Team) and watch the Summer Games. I'd watch everything. The spirit of the Games is really interesting. It brings out the most incredible athletic performances. It shows people's courage, their passion for their sport and their willpower to just keep fighting to win."

Women's Olympic ski racing begins on Feb. 14 in Whistler, B.C. with super-combined.

- by Shauna Farnell