The women’s skicross world number one, winner of the 2018-2019 season’s World Cup and silver medallist at the 2019 World Championships, is from Villars-sur-Ollon in the Vaud Alps. Fanny Smith’s resort will be one of the competition venues for the YOG Lausanne 2020, for skicross in particular. As an Ambassador for these YOG, she helped to design the course and skied it in January in front of her fans as part of the European Cup. Below is an interview with a totally committed champion.
Was the season that has just ended the best of your career?
It’s true that I had a very stable winter, a superb season in terms of statistics. Between 2013, when I was world champion, and this year, I have had two totally different personalities. Six years ago, I was young, reckless and crazy. With some extraordinary moments. Whereas this year, I had seven podium finishes with six wins in the World Cup, and narrowly missed out on the world title; but I’m more mature, more thoughtful, more composed; and the preparation was totally different.
You were still a teenager when you took part in your first Games, in Vancouver in 2010…
I was 17, the youngest athlete in the Swiss team. My coach wanted to protect me, keep me away from things. I didn’t take part in the Opening Ceremony, and we arrived just before the competition. They were my first Games, something quite extraordinary; but at the same time, I was there to do my best and try to achieve something, all the more so since a few days earlier I had achieved my first World Cup podium finish. So it was not unrealistic to aim high. In fact, I’ve had three Olympic experiences. In Vancouver, I was really young, discovering things; but I didn’t experience the Games to the full.
At those Games I had the biggest injury of my career. It was really difficult for me to get over that. I was in great shape, the reigning world champion. I was expected to do well, and right up to the semi-final, everything felt so easy even though I’m someone who always has to fight to achieve things. In the semi-final, I was ahead by around 10 metres, and I said to myself: “Try something else, push your boundaries, give it everything.” But when you’re at the Games, a one-off event, you should never try something else, just do what you know how to do. But there I wanted to do even more, and that made me screw up so I missed the final. For me, that was really difficult, and I’m talking about years here. A huge break, and it took me three whole years to rebuild myself.
And your podium finish in PyeongChang in 2018?
My third Games were the ones I experienced most intensely. I arrived in PyeongChang telling myself: “For once, I’m actually going to make the most of the Games.” I took part in the Opening Ceremony, I was more relaxed. I still had an objective, but I fully immersed myself in the Olympic atmosphere. I returned home to Villars with that amazing bronze medal. In fact, in one race I did two races. That’s what’s interesting about skicross, there is so much going on. For the first half of the race, I fought to get into first place, and I make mistakes. I then had to fight to get a medal. And then that passed. The work I did over four years after losing all my confidence in Sochi paid off, and I hung on right to the finish line. That was a real deliverance, which then allowed me to produce this great 2018-2019 season.
Last winter, you took part in the European Cup for a race in your home town which gave you the chance to try out the skicross course for the YOG 2020. Tell us about it…
It was great. In our sport, we don’t normally change categories when we’re competing in the World Cup. But with this amazing event happening in 2020, especially in Villars-sur-Ollon… It was only the second time I had competed in skicross in my home town. The first time I was 12, and that was when I fell in love with this discipline. The second time was the test event for the YOG, and I won it! It was really special, a really special atmosphere… There were members of my fan club, but also lots of volunteers, and tons of Swiss ski school instructors. A fantastic occasion, with all that positive energy.
How did you find the skicross course for the YOG 2020?
They’ve really done a good job. They’ve followed the contours of the slope. For skicross, you need jumps, modules, big turns… If I had to think about it in more detail, I’d say that we do have much longer runs in the World Cup with bigger jumps. But it’s been done for juniors, and at their age I had never skied a course like that.
You seem very attached to your Vaudois Alps mountains
I was born here, in the valley. I’ve lived all my life between Gryon and Villars. When I was younger, at my first international competitions and doing my first trips, like when I was 15 in New Zealand, I already imagined myself living somewhere else. But today, I feel that it’s nice to be at home. I’m really attached to the place. During 10 years of sports career, you see so many places and different mountains, but mine are still my favourite. Villars is on a kind of plateau, it’s a huge breath of fresh air. You’re quickly down by the lake, you’re quickly on the plain; the view is amazing, the sun’s incredible, it’s an extraordinary location.
What form will your engagement with Lausanne 2020 take?
I was already there during the candidature phase. Right at the start, I was asked if I wanted to be an Ambassador. And of course I said yes immediately. My role is focused a lot on skicross and Villars. Initially, to think about the course with the “shaper”, and talk to the FIS person in charge. I gave my point of view and my ideas about the route and the line, and then they built the course. A real piece of teamwork. Afterwards, I’d like to do much more, but it’s difficult while continuing my career. During the YOG, I’d love to be in Villars with the young athletes. If I’m around before and after the skicross competition, including in Lausanne, I’d be very happy to offer my services to the Organising Committee. We can talk about how I can help.
Why did you go public about the problems you had with dyslexia?
Because I wanted to share what I have to live with, and what I’ve lived through. And to say that even if you have difficulties at school, you can still find your own way. As soon as you find out what you are passionate about, you have to find the means to make a success of it.
Is it important for you to interact with younger athletes?
Yes. I very much enjoy passing on what I’ve learned in my sport, even with the youngsters who join the Swiss skicross team during the summer: I train, but I always keep an eye on them at the same time; I want to help them. If I can make a contribution, I will always do so.
What are your next objectives?
After my very good season, I want to do all I can to keep up the momentum. That puts a bit of personal pressure on me. At one point during the winter, people thought it was normal for me to win, and I told them: “Try to win a race and you’ll see.” But it’s true that I managed to maintain my highest level throughout the whole winter; it was like being on another planet. People didn’t understand when I finished second or third, but come on, I’m not a machine! So next season, I’ll do the best I can and see what happens. I’m also keen to develop my sport, to make it better known and ensure that it moves in the right direction. My main objective is the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. I’ll have to take all my experience from my previous Games and get everything right at the right time!