France’s mighty “Flea”
A two-time world giant slalom and team event champion, France’s Tessa Worley is the world’s No.1-ranked skier in her discipline and will be among the favourites for gold at PyeongChang 2018.
Skiing all over the world
Dividing her time between the French resort of Le Grand Bornand and Mt Lyford Ski Area on New Zealand’s South Island, Tessa Worley spent most of her childhood on skis. Both her Australian father Steve and her French mother Madeleine were ski instructors and pursued their careers on both sides of the globe. “As a family, we lived for winter in the first seven years of my life,” explained Worley, who was on skis as soon as she was able to walk and took part in her first race at the age of five at Mt Lyford. Although it was, and is, her passion, skiing was not the only sport in her life. She also found time for walking, tennis, horse riding, skating and cycling.
In the mid-1990s, Worley and her family settled for good in Le Grand Bornand, where she joined the ski club, of which she is still a member and its most famous ambassador. A student of sports studies, she was only 16 when she made her FIS World Cup debut in the giant slalom in Ofterschwang (GER) in February 2006, finishing 29th to score the first points of her career. In 2007, she proudly took her place in France’s military ski team, representing the army in national and international competitions, among them the World Military Skiing Championships.
Learning her trade
Though a versatile skier, it is in the giant slalom that Worley is able to maximise her explosiveness and finesse, not to mention her ability to find the best trajectory. Nicknamed “La Puce” (“The Flea”) on account of her diminutive frame, the French skier made a name for herself in the opening race of the 2007/08 season in Sölden, going fastest on the second run to climb up from 23rd to fifth in what was only her fourth World Cup start. She finished fifth again in October 2008, this time in the first race of the World Cup season, a giant slalom in Solden (AUT). A month later, Worley enjoyed her maiden victory, in the giant in Aspen. Then, in February 2009, still only 19 years old, she made her first FIS World Championship appearance, in Val d’Isère. Fifth after the first run, she dropped a pole on the second and eventually came in seventh. “It’s all good experience for me,” she philosophically said afterwards.
An Olympic debut in Vancouver
Following a second World Cup win in Are (SWE) in December 2009, Worley made her Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010. Unable to produce her best form in a giant slalom race held over two days on account of bad weather, she finished 16th, with Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg taking the gold. “I did all I could,” said Worley afterwards. “I went for it, but it didn’t work out. Better luck next time.”
Champion of the world
The 2010/11 season was the making of the French skier, who scored three World Cup wins in a row to move to the top of the giant slalom standings, though it was Rebensburg who ended up winning the crystal globe, ahead of Worley. That winter saw “The Flea” win her first world championship medal, as she helped France to gold in the team event in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Another medal soon followed in stirring fashion in the giant slalom, as she produced the fastest second run to rise from 19th to third. Worley maintained her place in the giant slalom elite in the months that followed, and then cemented it by going fastest in both runs in the 2013 World Championships in Schladming to win the first individual gold of her career, 1.12 seconds ahead of Slovenia’s Tina Maze.
She secured an eighth World Cup win in the giant at St. Moritz on 15 December 2013 before disaster struck three days later, when Worley fell heavily in the slalom in Courchevel, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee and also damaging her meniscus. Deprived of a trip to Sochi 2014, she spent three long winters working her way back to full fitness and form.
Back on top
Worley made her long-awaited return in 2016/17 and did so in style, scoring four wins in seven World Cup giant slalom races and two third places to regain her status as the world No.1 in her discipline. At the 2017 World Championships in St. Moritz, she played her part as France won a second consecutive gold in the team event, which will be on the Olympic programme at PyeongChang 2018. Wearing the No.1 bib, Worley then set about defending her giant slalom title. Fastest in the first run, she then beat off a determined challenge from the USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin to retain her crown and pick up a fourth world championship gold medal.
The season also saw her become France’s most successful skier of all time in the women’s giant slalom, with 11 wins and counting, and she capped the campaign by collecting the first crystal globe of her career, in the discipline she has made her own.
Thinking big at PyeongChang
“It was tough to come back, but I never gave up. I believed in myself and people believed in me,” said the French skier after her much-celebrated St. Moritz victory. Having been denied the chance to go for gold in Sochi, Worley is now looking ahead to another shot at Olympic glory at PyeongChang 2018.