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Austria’s Anna Fenninger fulfilled the huge potential she showed as a youngster by reaching the pinnacle of women’s Alpine skiing in 2014, winning gold and silver at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi and the overall FIS World Cup title.
Born in Hallein, Salzburg, Anna Fenninger enjoyed a childhood that revolved around sport, and in particular skiing, proving so gifted at it that she completed her secondary education at the Bad Gastein Ski Race Academy. Her early life followed a similar path to that of her compatriot Marcel Hirscher. Born in the same year, they also went to school together. “We grew up in the same region and we skied with each other a lot when we were children,” she explained. “We went to the same school, were in the same class and we competed in races together. It’s a lovely story.”
Like Marcel, she lived up to expectations and went on to become a world number one. “There was a lot of pressure on me,” she said, though she responded to it by tasting success in the European Cup and at the Junior World Championships, where she won six medals between 2006 and 2009, four of them gold.
A superb technician, Fenninger competed across all the Alpine disciplines at in the early stages of her career, making her FIS World Cup debut in the slalom at Levi (FIN) in November 2006. It was not long, however, before she narrowed her focus in a bid to reach the very top: “When I was 20 I decided to stop competing in every event because I wasn’t physically fit enough. So I decided to concentrate first and foremost on the super-G and the downhill, which has helped me.”
In 2011 Fenninger won the world super combined title at Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GER) and scored her first World Cup win in the giant slalom at Lienz (AUT) that same year, one in which she was also named Austrian sport’s Breakthrough Star of the Year.
By the time the countdown to Sochi 2014 had begun, Fenninger had established herself as a major force in four events: giant slalom, super-G, downhill and super combined. She made a superb start to the Olympic season, securing a string of podium finishes in the World Cup. However, when the Games finally came around, she endured disappointment in her opening event, going out in the downhill after posting some excellent split times.
She would not be denied in the super-G, however, drawing on all her resources on an extremely demanding course to win by over half a second from the great Maria Höfl-Riesch. “For me, the adrenaline is very high in super-G,” she said afterwards. “That’s what I like, when I go fast. It’s the best day of my life. It had been a big dream of mine for a long time, and today it came true. Today is my day.” In the giant slalom three days later, she atoned for an uncharacteristic mistake in the first run with a flawless second descent to take the silver medal, just 0.07 seconds behind Tina Maze.
Buoyed by her Sochi double, Fenninger enjoyed with a storming finish to the season, winning back-to-back giant slalom races at Are (SWE) before heading to Lenzerheide (SUI) for the FIS World Cup finale, with overall points leader Höfl-Riesch firmly in her sights. Twenty-four hours after finishing sixth in a downhill race in which the German fell heavily, Fenninger took second place in the super-G to become the first Austrian to win the overall World Cup title since Michaela Dorfmeister in 2002. She celebrated a season-ending win in the giant slalom to take the crystal globe in that event as well.
When it was all over she posed for a photo with her old classmate Hirscher, the winner of the men’s overall title for the third time running, together with their collection of crystal globes. Posting the image on her Facebook wall, she wrote: “We did it”. It is a ritual that may well be repeated on a regular basis in the years ahead.