Austrian ace back on the medal trail
Tipped for success at the highest level since her childhood days, Austria’s Anna Fenninger finally reached the peak of Alpine skiing in 2014, winning Olympic super-G gold and giant slalom silver in Sochi and then the overall FIS World Cup title a month later. After retaining that World Cup crown in 2015 and then suffering a serious injury that kept her off the slopes for over a year, the Austrian returned under her married name of Veith to claim super-G silver at PyeongChang 2018.
Raised on skis
Born in Hallein, Salzburg, Fenninger enjoyed a childhood that revolved around sport, and in particular skiing, proving so gifted 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 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.
Fast track to success
A superb technician, Fenninger competed across all the Alpine disciplines 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, resulting in being named Austrian sport’s Breakthrough Star of the Year.
A winter to remember
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. “Super-G gives me a high level of adrenaline,” she said afterwards. “I love to go fast. Today is the best day of my life.” 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.
Icing on the cake
Buoyed by her Sochi double, Fenninger enjoyed a storming end 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.”
Further success and an injury setback
The Austrian star maintained her considerable momentum the following season, winning the super-G and giant slalom titles at the FIS World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek (USA), where she also picked up downhill silver. In the same season, she recorded six victories on the World Cup circuit (a super-G, four giant slaloms and a combined) and a string of podium finishes to win her second consecutive overall crystal globe as well as small globes for the giant and combined.
Fenninger’s progress then came to a sudden halt when she suffered a heavy fall in training in Sölden (AUT) three days before the start of the 2015/16 campaign, rupturing cruciate ligaments in her right knee and tearing her patellar tendon. The injury ruled her out for the season, though there was a happy ending when she married her long-term partner and former elite snowboarder Manuel Veith on 16 April 2016.
Now skiing under her married name, the Austrian returned to competitive action in December 2016 only for an inflammation in her left knee to cut her season short in February 2017 and force her back onto the operating table. Recovering in time for the start of the new Olympic season, she returned to winning form in the super-G at Val d’Isère, just two months before PyeongChang 2018.
Veith added to her Olympic medal collection at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre. She produced a storming finish in the super-G to take the lead from Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather by a tenth of a second. With no one else expected to challenge the race leader, her fellow skiers began to congratulate her on what seemed a certain gold.
They should not have overlooked the Czech parallel snowboard world champion Ester Ledecka, however. Starting 26th, Ledecka eclipsed Veith’s time by 0.01 seconds to snatch the gold, to the astonishment of both her and the Austrian.
“I was sure I’d won the gold because no one outside the first 20 skiers had beaten me all season,” said Veith afterwards. “But Ester skied really well and deserves her win. Silver is like gold for me because any medal is incredible after my two years of injury.”
On her Facebook page, Veith wrote simply: “I am back.” Delighted to have returned to full fitness and winning medals again, Veith has every intention of staying on that path.