Finnish skier Erika Pykalainen was nervous before launching down the most challenging course of her young ski racing career, but that didn’t stop the 15-year-old from hanging onto her first run lead and winning the 2017 Longines Future Ski Champions race held at St. Moritz (SUI), which was staged at the World Ski Championships just after the men's alpine combined.
The fourth annual Longines Future Ski Champions giant slalom race took place on the same course used for the 2017 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, featuring one carefully selected skier under the age of 16 from each of the 13 countries hosting the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup in the 2016/2017 season. The event alternates gender every year and on Monday, 13th February, the field of young female competitors delivered a level of competition well-suited to the high-profile venue.
Pykalainen surprised herself when she crossed the finish line with a one-second lead over the rest of the field, winning with a two-run combined time of 1:34:89, ahead of second-place racer Aline Hopli of Switzerland, who finished in 1:35.89 and France’s Clarisse Breche in third place with a time of 1:37.00.
For the victory, Pykalainen received a crystal globe, a gold medal, a Longines watch and a check for USD 20,000 benefitting the Finnish Ski Association’s youth development programme.
The young skier said she hopes the result was the first of many great things to come. Her dream is to follow in the footsteps of her racing hero – World Cup overall leader Mikaela Shiffrin, who, as a Longines ambassador and former Future Ski Champion, presented the bibs prior to Monday’s race.
“It was the first time I got to talk to her and it was amazing,” Pykalainen said.