Sweden’s Queen of the Slopes revels in lack of attention
All the pre-Olympic attention in women’s Alpine Skiing has been on American Lindsey Vonn, her form, her posing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, her shin injury, her cheesetherapy, her husband/coach/spokesman Thomas and her ever so hip social networking ability (yes, she tweets her facebook updates). It’s almost as though seven-times world champion Anja Paerson wasn’t here…..
Which suits the 28-year-old Swede just fine. The true Queen of the Slopes, the most successful active women’s skier on the circuit, Paerson doesn’t mind the lack of attention.
Despite her elevated status in the sport, only two non-Swedish journalists bothered to turn up to her pre-Olympics press conference. That was even more surprising given that, as well as being a multiple medal contender, Paerson, who has been on the World Cup tour for 12 years, also happens to be one of the smartest, most articulate athlete on the circuit and is frequently outspoken on issues of concern to her and her fellow skiers.
I was fortunate enough to witness a lot of Paerson’s successes in the mid noughties –- some key wins in her two overall World Cup titles in 2004 and 2005, the two golds in the world championships at Bormio in 2005 and her Olympic gold in slalom a year later at the Turin Games. In among those many highlights (she is the only woman to have won gold in every world championship event) there have been times when she has looked and sounded bored or frustrated with skiing. There has been the feeling that she needed to be angry to perform well.
But speaking to her this week at the Olympic village in Whistler, Paerson struck me as being someone very content personally and professionally.
“I feel really great, the preparations have been good and I feel calm and in good harmony, I like the course, I like the slope, the snow is a little bit more like spring snow and I feel very comfortable with that,” she said this week.
The storylines have focused on Vonn and her closest challenger Maria Riesch of Germany but Paerson has hit some good form at just the right moment. She is currently third in the overall standings having since the start of this year finished on the podium in downhill, super-G and giant slalom and won in super-combined. If she were a teenager the ski press would be going wild about form like that.
Paerson enjoyed the chance to prepare back home in Sweden where she is the top sportswoman in the country but still is able to prepare without stress.
“I have been training well in a lovely place south of Oestersund where I prepared for the Are World Championships,” she added. “It was great to be again among good friends, training hard in a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s exactly what I needed prior coming here,” she said.
Paerson has been largely discounted because she failed to reach a podium a year ago at the Val d’Isère World Championships but she says she has learnt her lessons from that experience.
“I think I tried too hard to win there, I skied too aggressively,” she explained. “It was the wrong tactic. It worked well for me when I was younger to be very determined and even mean but now I need another approach. I believe I am more efficient now with a more relaxed attitude.”
She did indeed look relaxed this week and there was something in her laid-back self-assured demeanor that makes me think she might just have another medal or two to her name by the time she leaves Canada.