Italy’s downhill queen
Sofia Goggia made her childhood dream come true at PyeongChang 2018, when she became the first Italian winner of a women’s Olympic downhill race. She then rounded off a magnificent season by claiming the downhill crystal globe by a mere three points from the USA’s Lindsey Vonn.
A childhood dream
“It’s a dream I’ve been chasing since I was a young girl and I started skiing the slopes in Foppolo,” said Goggia on returning to a hero’s welcome in her home city of Bergamo, with the Olympic downhill gold medal dangling around her neck.
She first made that dream clear as a nine-year-old, in October 2002, when completing a questionnaire for young Italian skiers. In response to the question, “What is your sporting dream?”, she replied: “To win the Olympic downhill.” When asked to describe how motivated she was to achieve that objective on a scale of 0 (not motivated at all) to 10 (extremely motivated), she put a circle round the “10” and underlined the word “extremely” three times.
In the days after her Olympic triumph at PyeongChang 2018, she posted a photo of the questionnaire on social media and wrote, “Look at what I wrote before I’d even turned 10.” Needless to say, her 17,900 followers on Twitter, 117,000 fans on Facebook and 160,000 followers on Instagram showed their appreciation of the posts.
A long road
The persevering Goggia has had to take a circuitous route to the top. An extremely talented young skier with a very promising future ahead of her, she was a national junior super-G champion at the age of 15. A star of the FIS European Cup in 2008, when she recorded a series of excellent results in her four events, she was sidelined after sustaining a knee injury in the super-G in Kvitfjell (NOR) in January 2010.
On making her comeback in the 2011/12 season, she won the European Cup downhill title. The Italian then stepped up to the FIS World Cup, making her debut at the age of 19 in the giant slalom in Lienz (AUT) in December 2012.
The first sign that she had what it took to excel at the highest level came when she finished fourth in the super-G at the 2013 World Championships in Schladming (AUT). In December that year, however, she suffered another serious injury to her left knee in the downhill at Lake Louise (USA), tearing a cruciate ligament and damaging her meniscus.
After commentating for Italian TV at Sochi 2014, she returned to competition only to pick up another injury, undergoing yet more surgery at the end of the 2014 season.
Heading for the top
On regaining fitness, form and confidence, Goggia finally broke into the global elite in the 2016/17 World Cup season, claiming top-three finishes in the downhill, super-G, giant slalom and combined.
The Italian also won a giant slalom bronze at the 2017 World Championships in St Moritz, a race won by France’s Tessa Worley, with the USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin taking silver. Goggia then scored her first two World Cup victories in the space of 24 hours at the Olympic test events in Jeongseon, beating Lindsey Vonn in the downhill on 4 March and then winning the super-G a day later.
Attempting to explain her sudden success in the Republic of Korea, Goggia said: “I think my qualities as a Ninja warrior are more appreciated in Asia, and that’s why my first career win had to come here.”
Dreams come true
The Olympic season saw Goggia become the world No1 in downhill. Victories in Bad Kleinkirchheim (AUT) and Cortina d'Ampezzo (ITA) in January 2018 ensured she would travel to PyeongChang 2018 full of confidence and wearing the red bib as the leader in the World Cup downhill standings.
The Italian was handed start No5 for the downhill, and showed all her skill in mastering a steep course to produce a clean run, though not without taking several risks. Her time of 1.39.22 was over a second faster than her training run the day before and put her at the top of the leaderboard.
“Today’s been a good day,” she said later, reflecting on her performance. “I was really focused on the essential and did the absolute best I could.”
Starting two places behind her, Vonn came in 0.47 seconds adrift of her time in second, and was then bumped down to third by Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel, who pushed Goggia close but finished 0.09 seconds off the pace. In succeeding the Sochi 2014 joint champions Dominique Gisin and Tina Maze, Goggia became the first ever Italian woman to win Olympic downhill gold.
Interviewed by Radiotélévision Suisse in the finish area and with Gisin by her side, Goggia took hold of the microphone and addressed the Swiss skier, who, like the Italian, had tears in her eyes: “Four years ago I was commentating on Dominique’s win on TV. My knee was broken – I’d injured myself at Lake Louise in late 2013. I can remember arriving at the airport in a wheelchair and someone came and tapped me on the shoulder and gave me their ticket. She was in Business and I was in Economy and she said: ‘You take my ticket and I’ll take yours’.
“I knew who she was – Dominique Gisin – but I didn’t know her. Four years of highs and lows later, after a thousand races, a thousand defeats and so much joy and pain, here we are together, in the Republic of Korea. I’ve won the Olympics and I’m so emotional.”
Goggia ended her memorable season on a high by topping the World Cup downhill standings by three points from Vonn, giving the Italian her first small crystal globe. Having finally made the breakthrough, she will be looking for more glory in the years to come.