France’s mighty “Flea”
A two-time giant slalom world champion and twice an Olympic gold medallist in the team event, Tessa Worley fought her way back to the top of her sport after sustaining a serious injury in a fall in 2013. Within four years, she had re-established herself as France’s leading female skier.
Skiing all over the world
Dividing her time between the French resort of Le Grand Bornand and Mt Lyford Ski Area on New Zealand’s South Island, Tessa Worley spent most of her childhood on skis. Both her Australian father Steve and her French mother Madeleine were ski instructors and pursued their careers on both sides of the globe.
“As a family, we lived for winter in the first seven years of my life,” explained Worley, who was on skis as soon as she was able to walk and took part in her first race at the age of five on Mt Lyford. Although it was, and remains, her passion, skiing was not the only sport in her life. She also found time for walking, tennis, horse riding, skating and cycling during her childhood years-
In the mid-1990s, Worley and her family settled for good in Le Grand Bornand, where she joined the local ski club, of which she is still a member and its most famous ambassador. A student of sports studies, she was only 16 when she made her FIS World Cup debut in the giant slalom in Ofterschwang (GER) in February 2006, finishing 29th to score the first points of her career. In 2007, she proudly took her place in France’s military ski team, representing the army in national and international competitions, among them the World Military Skiing Championships.
Learning her trade
Though a versatile skier, it is in the giant slalom that Worley is able to maximise her explosiveness and finesse, not to mention her ability to find the best trajectory. Nicknamed “La Puce” (“The Flea”) on account of her diminutive frame, the French skier made a name for herself in the opening race of the 2007/08 season in Sölden (AUT), going fastest on the second run to climb up from 23rd to fifth in what was only her fourth World Cup start.
She finished fifth again in October 2008, this time in the first race of the World Cup season, a giant slalom in Sölden (AUT). A month later, Worley scored her maiden victory, in the giant in Aspen (USA). Then, in February 2009, and still only 19 years old, she made her first FIS World Championship appearance, in Val d’Isère (FRA). Fifth after the first run in the giant slalom, she dropped a pole on the second and eventually came in seventh. “It’s all good experience for me,” she said afterwards.
An Olympic debut in Vancouver
Following a second World Cup win in Åre (SWE) in December 2009, Worley made her Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010. Unable to produce her best form in a giant slalom race held over two days on account of bad weather, she finished 16th, with Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg taking the gold. “I did all I could,” said Worley afterwards. “I went for it, but it didn’t work out. Better luck next time.”
Champion of the world
The 2010/11 season was the making of the French skier, who scored three World Cup wins in a row to move to the top of the giant slalom standings, though it was Rebensburg who ended up winning the crystal globe, ahead of Worley.
That winter saw “The Flea” win her first world championship medal, as she helped France to gold in the team event in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GER). Another medal soon followed in stirring fashion in the giant slalom, as she produced the fastest second run to rise from 19th to third.
Worley maintained her place in the giant slalom elite in the months that followed, and then cemented it by going fastest in both runs in the 2013 World Championships in Schladming (AUT) to win the first individual gold of her career, 1.12 seconds ahead of Slovenia’s Tina Maze.
Worley secured an eighth World Cup win in the giant at St Moritz on 15 December 2013, before disaster struck three days later. In falling heavily in the slalom in Courchevel (FRA), she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee and also damaged her meniscus. Deprived of a trip to Sochi 2014, she spent three long winters working her way back to full fitness and form.
Back on top
Worley made her long-awaited return in 2016/17 and did so in style, scoring four wins in seven World Cup giant slalom races and two third places to regain her status as the world No1 in her discipline.
At the 2017 World Championships in St Moritz, she played her part as France won a second consecutive gold in the team event, which would feature on the Olympic programme at PyeongChang 2018. Wearing the No.1 bib, Worley then set about defending her giant slalom title. Fastest in the first run, she then beat off a determined challenge from the USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin to retain her crown and pick up a fourth world championship gold medal.
That winter also saw Worley become France’s most successful skier in the giant slalom, as she recorded her 12th win, which helped her lift her maiden small crystal globe in the event.
“Coming back has not been easy but I never gave up,” said the tenacious French skier. “I kept on believing and people believed in me.”
Highs and lows
Worley enjoyed less giant slalom success the following season, recording three podium finishes and a solitary win, in Lenzerheide (SUI), in the countdown to PyeongChang 2018. Delayed by three days due to high winds, when the Olympic giant slalom finally got under way, Worley found herself well off the pace in the first run, ending it in 14th place.
Though she fared much better on her second run, she had to settle for seventh, 1.40 seconds behind Shiffrin, who won her first Olympic gold in the event.
Worley had another crack at the medals in the team event, helping France win through to the semi-finals, where they lost out to a well-grooved Switzerland team. More frustration followed for her when the French were beaten to the bronze by Norway.
Still only 28 and her Olympic ambitions still very much intact, Worley is very likely to be among the medal contenders again when Beijing 2022 comes around.