2020 Vision: Homegrown heroes
Our countdown to the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020 continues as young athletes prepare to make a name for themselves next January. Olympic.org looks back at some memorable performances by Swiss athletes at previous editions of the Winter YOG.
Ski racer Sandro Simonet was Switzerland’s star performer at the Winter YOG Innsbruck 2012, winning three medals. After claiming bronzes in the combined event and the giant slalom, Simonet topped the podium in the slalom to finish the Games in style as his National Olympic Committee (NOC)’s most decorated athlete.
The then 16-year-old established a 1.18-second lead going into the second run of the slalom after top contenders such as Leny Herpin (FRA), Marco Schwarz (AUT) and Martin Fjeldberg (NOR) all skied off course on the first run.
Simonet then managed to ski the fastest second run of the day as well, widening his lead to 1.90 seconds to secure his third medal of the Games in impressive fashion.
"That's surely the best moment in my career," he said afterwards. "After the two bronze medals, I'm so glad it is gold this time."
Simonet has since gone on to win team gold with Switzerland at the 2019 FIS World Championships.
Another ski racer made headlines for Switzerland at the Winter YOG Lillehammer 2016, as Aline Danioth dominated the women’s Alpine events by winning two gold and two bronze medals.
The then 17-year-old’s dream YOG began with an unexpected bronze in the super-G, followed by victory in the combined and then another third-place finish in the giant slalom.
Danioth then starred on both runs of the slalom, finishing a dominant 1.59 seconds ahead of Ali Nullmeyer in second place and 2.65 in front of Meta Hrovat in third.
“It’s a special event,” said Danioth afterwards. “I can only compete in the Youth Olympic Games once in my life, so to win four medals is so cool.”
Since starring at the YOG, Danioth struck gold again in the team event at the 2019 FIS World Championships.
Switzerland’s Kai Mahler made history at the Winter YOG Innsbruck 2012, as he won the first ever men’s Olympic gold medal in the ski halfpipe.
Two years before the event made its debut at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, Mahler was victorious at the Kühtai freestyle and snowboarding venue, wowing the crowd with some massive airs on his first run to clinch gold with an incredible 95.00 points.
“I’m so happy right now and I can’t believe that I won the gold medal,” said the then 16-year-old afterwards. “I’m pretty stoked to get the first Olympic medal in ski halfpipe. It feels so good.”
Mahler has since gone on to win four Winter X Games medals in big air.
Ski racer Mélanie Meillard established herself as “one to watch” at the Winter YOG Lillehammer 2016, as she won two medals on the famed Hafjell slopes.
Aged 17 at the time, Meillard first won silver behind compatriot Aline Danioth in the combined, before topping the podium in a nail-biting finish in the giant slalom.
Meillard’s victory came by just 0.06 seconds as she pipped Germany’s Katrin Hirtl-Stanggassinger to gold, with Danioth finishing a further 0.61s back.
“Obviously, being on top of the podium stands out for me, but I also remember sharing a podium with Aline,” recalls Meillard. “It was a great moment to be there with a fellow Swiss who also happens to be a friend. I’ve never experienced anything like it before.”
Meillard has since found the podium on the FIS World Cup circuit, finishing third in the parallel slalom in Oslo last year.
Curling skip Michael Brunner led the Swiss foursome to mixed team gold at the inaugural Winter YOG Innsbruck 2012 before pairing up with Germany’s Nicole Muskatewitz to also top the podium in the mixed-NOC doubles.
Alongside Elena Stern, Romano Meier and Lisa Gisler, Brunner led Switzerland to a 6-4 victory over Italy in the gold medal match, having earlier seen off Sweden (10-4) in the semi-finals and Japan (4-3) in a closely-fought quarterfinal.
“I feel great. I can't believe it; it was perfect,” exclaimed Brunner afterwards. “Our goal was to reach the quarterfinals, but I thought it would be great to have a medal. I am really happy that it worked. It was something different to play this event."
Brunner and Muskatewitz were then paired together for the mixed-NOC doubles, where they were too strong for Eunbi Kim (KOR) and Martin Sesaker (NOR) in the gold medal match, winning 13-2 after seven ends.
Ski cross racer Talina Gantenbein peaked at the perfect time during the Winter YOG Lillehammer 2016, as she gathered momentum throughout the rounds before clinching gold in the final.
Donning the red bib in the final as the skier with the highest points total throughout the competition, the Swiss was able to choose her position at the starting line, yet it was Australia’s Zali Offord who took the early lead.
Gantenbein moved to the front in the second half of the race, however, leaving Offord in her wake as she clinched gold, with the Australian securing silver ahead of Czech skier Klara Kasparova.
“I can’t believe it,” said a delighted Gantenbein afterwards. “This means a lot to me. Winning a race like that is not something you do every day; it’s fantastic.”
Following her YOG success, Gantenbein went on to compete for Switzerland at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.