As well as being the reigning world champion in giant slalom, Tessa Worley is a member of the French quartet that holds the world title in the team event, which is set to make its Olympic debut in 2018. Moreover, her strong recent showings in the super-G suggest she will be in the running for as many as three medals in PyeongChang.
Worley was virtually born on skis. Her Australian father and French mother are both ski instructors, and her childhood was spent dividing her time between the northern and southern hemispheres, which meant she could ski all year around. It was an intensive education that served her well, and she was already making a name for herself on the international circuit while still a teenager.
Back to her bestHaving demonstrated her prowess at the Worlds in 2011 and 2013, with golds in the team event and giant slalom respectively, Worley then hit a major setback. A bad knee injury suffered on the slopes of Courcheval (FRA) during a World Cup race in December 2013 kept her side-lined for the best part of two seasons. However, when she finally made her top-level comeback in the 2016/17 season, she did so with a bang. Not only did she claim her second giant slalom world title in St Moritz (SUI), she also finished the season at top of the World Cup rankings in the discipline, seeing off the challenge of the USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin to claim the small crystal globe.
Although she has competed across all five Alpine disciplines, it is, without doubt, the giant slalom that brings out the best in the diminutive Frenchwoman, thanks to her explosive pace, unwavering balance, lightness of touch, and uncanny ability to maintain a tight line. Going into the 2017/18 season she had amassed World Cup 18 podiums, including 11 golds, making her France’s best ever women’s giant slalom specialist. But she is now desperate to make her mark on the Olympic stage. "I want to arrive in PyeongChang prepared for every possible situation, so that when I am in the gate it doesn’t matter what happens,” she said in October 2017. “I want everything to be right so that I can produce my best skiing; and, of course, if I can do that, I’ll be aiming for gold.”
Team effortHaving made her Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010 as a youngster with no medal hopes, Worley then missed out on Sochi 2014 through injury, so her return to the Olympic stage has been long awaited. It is timed to coincide with the debut of the Alpine team event. This is familiar territory for Worley, who, along with Alexis Pinturault, Adeline Baud and Mathieu Faivre, is reigning world champion. In fact, her pedigree in the event goes back a long way, given her role in the World Championship victory in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GER) back in 2011.
However, France’s success in the event has also seen it surge in popularity, which means that competition for places in the team will be stiffer than ever, and Worley is not taking her participation in PyeongChang for granted. “The team event is getting bigger. It’s a great event, and I love being involved in it,” she says. “But there’s now a lot of competition for places. There will be a lot of people wanting to make the team. I’ve enjoyed some fantastic times with the team at the world championships and I’d obviously like the chance to have more at the Winter Olympics, but I’ll need to make it through the qualifying process first.”It’s a real team effort. That was what brought us our success at the last Worlds; above all else we were able to help each other at the key moments; we really managed to motivate one another, and it paid off.Tessa Worley France
“It’s really important that we stick together and bond strongly as a team, like we did at the 2017 Worlds in St Moritz. We have to reproduce that in PyeongChang. […] When we won our World titles, there were moments when I wasn’t at my best, and there were others when I was at my best but some of my team-mates weren’t. So, you need to work for each other. It’s a real team effort. That was what brought us our success at the last Worlds; above all else we were able to help each other at the key moments; we really managed to motivate one another, and it paid off.”
Focus on super-GWorley reveals that the secret to her return to the top has been managing to “strike a real balance” by which she means: “You can’t afford to be over-confident, but you can’t allow too much doubt or pressure to creep in. That’s the balance I aim for. In skiing, anything can happen once you’re on the course. You can be the best in the world and fail to score points, or fail to make the second round, or conversely everything can come together and you can produce something sensational. Today, I consider myself not to have any status, it’s the start of a new season, that means we start at zero; and for me being able to draw on my experience is more important than my status.”
One of her main objectives this season is to make progress in the super-G. “I feel like I overcame a hurdle last winter when I came close to the podium [in super-G] a couple of times. I know it’s not the easiest route to take, and I still have a few hundredths to shed from my time, but my work over the summer was very much focused on the super-G.”
Inspired by Vancouver
Now 28, Worley had to miss Sochi 2014 due to that knee injury, meaning that her only Olympic experience to date came way back in 2010 in Vancouver when she was just 20. She finished 16th in the giant slalom, but describes it as “a very positive personal experience. “I loved the atmosphere,” she recalls. “I loved the fact I was taking part in the Olympics. It remains a magical memory. When you make it to the Olympics you realise that you have a great chance to do something in your sporting career. In terms of the actual competition in Vancouver, things were tricky for me. The giant slalom in Whistler took place in unbelievable conditions, and they had to hold the competition over two days! I learned a lot from that, and that’s exactly why I want to make sure I’m prepared for everything when I go to the 2018 Games. You need to be prepared for every eventuality, and still be able to produce your best when the moment comes.”She is also looking forward to reacquainting herself with life in the Olympic Village. “It’s the only place where you can experience this kind of thing,” she says. “It’s unique to the Games. Being able to mix with incredible athletes from different sports, from different backgrounds and different countries, I really appreciate all of that. I’ve only experienced it once, but it was fantastic.
She also obtained her best result in the discipline less than three months before the Games, placing fourth at Lake Louise (Canada) on 3 December 2017, after being on the podium for the first giant of the Olympic season, at the end of October in Sölden (Austria).
Mission PyeongChangPyeongChang 2018 will be Worley’s first time on the Korean peninsular, so she has only had a chance to check out the courses from afar. “I’ve seen photos and videos of the runs, but I’ve never actually skied in the Republic of Korea,” admits Worley. “I did have the chance to go last winter, but it would have disrupted my giant slalom World Cup title bid, so I needed to pass. I’ve heard a lot about the giant slalom run, and I can’t wait to try it out. It looks very nice, with lots of variety: good gradients, flat sections, technical sections, fast sections; in other words, a bit of everything; so whoever emerges as Olympic champion will have to be able to do everything.”
“I’ll be going to the Games with a clear idea of what I want to achieve. Hopefully the fact I’ve got a bit more international experience and more knowledge this time around will serve me well.”