At peak fitness and currently on top form in the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, 24-year-old Tina Weirather has recently enjoyed a spectacular rise to prominence. After achieving the first giant slalom victory of her career on the OK piste in Val d’Isère (FRA) on 22 December, a result that followed five top-three finishes in seven races, including a super-G triumph in St. Moritz (SUI), the Liechtensteiner spent the festive period wearing the red jersey of the leader of the overall standings. While her recent performances may have come as a surprise to some, her family background clearly laid the foundations for success.
Weirather was born in Vaduz on 24 May 1989. Her mother, Hanni Wenzel, was a two-time FIS World Cup winner (in 1978 and 1980), four-time world champion and four-time Olympic medallist, capturing two golds – in the slalom and giant slalom – at Lake Placid in 1980. Her Austrian father, Harti Weirather, was crowned downhill world champion in 1982, while her uncle, Andreas Wenzel, won two Olympic medals and four World Championship medals, all in the combined and giant slalom events. Hanni and Andreas Wenzel are responsible for six of the nine Olympic medals – and the only two titles – obtained under the Liechtensteiner flag.
As a young girl, however, Weirather first exhibited sporting prowess on the tennis court. “I played it until I was 12, but I didn’t like the one-on-one adversarial aspect. When you ski, it’s just you against the slope. You’re battling with the mountain and not with the other girls – that’s why I absolutely love competitive skiing,” she says. Starting out on the international junior circuit in 2004, she took part in her maiden World Cup race – a giant slalom – in Sölden (AUT) in October 2005 and in her first Olympic Games in 2006 (Turin), aged just 16. Although her exceptional talent marked her out as one to watch early on, she suffered a series of injuries, including three successive cruciate ligament tears in her right knee. These setbacks halted her progress until 2011, causing her to miss out on Vancouver.
On top of the world
Weirather eventually secured a World Cup podium finish on 2 December 2012 with second place at Lake Louise (CAN), before earning a first super-G win in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GER) on 1 March 2013. These results foreshadowed her excellent start to this current season, in which she raced to victory in the super-G event on 14 December, her mother’s birthday, in St. Moritz, the very location where Hanni Wenzel became world slalom champion in 1974. Much to her delight, a breakthrough win in the giant slalom event in Val d’Isère followed: “It’s always been a dream of mine to shine in the giant slalom. I always wanted it to be my best event. It’s taken a lot of time and effort to get to this point, and it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Her objective now is simple: winning Liechtenstein’s first Olympic medal since Paul Frommelt in the slalom at Calgary 1988. “My parents told me that everyone’s a bit nervous and reacts a bit differently at the Games. Once you’re there, it seems to be difficult to do what normally works well for you,” she notes. “They’re one-off races, and so there’s a lot more pressure than you get from the FIS World Cup.” That may be true, but Weirather’s exuberance and speed on the slopes, paired with her growing confidence and natural talent put her in an ideal position to claim a medal in Sochi, be it in the downhill, super-G or giant slalom.