“Like every athlete, you go to the Olympics because you want one thing – a medal…”
We’ve teamed up with Dainese to shine a spotlight on luminaries from across the world of action sports and adventure – from big name athletes to epic events that showcase ambition and achievement that goes above and beyond the norm. Sofia Goggia is an Italian downhill skier who has beaten injury time and time again to reach the top of the sport. Now she’s going for gold at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
When the last Winter Olympics arrived in 2014 Italian downhill skier Sofia Goggia was 21 years old. Sofia had just finished fourth in the Super-G (super giant slalom) event at the 2013 World Championships in Schladming having never competed in an elite-level Super-G event before in her life. Out of nowhere, she suddenly had a real chance of medalling at the Sochi Games.
Unfortunately Goggia then suffered a serious knee injury and was forced to undergo surgery and rehabilitation instead of travelling to Russia. American outlets reported on the “Italian medal contender set to miss out on Sochi” and how this would improve Lindsey Vonn’s chances. Big words about a woman who had only competed in a handful of top-level events at the time.
“Like every athlete, you go to the Olympics because you want one thing – a medal.”
“I tore my ACL just before the Olympics, in December,” Sofia remembers. “It was pretty tough because I already had qualification in my pocket.
“I ended up having had four surgeries in total. I always recovered successfully with therapy though, and I know that I can do anything and everything as well as I possibly can now.”
In the end, 2010 Olympic Downhill winner and Super-G bronze-medallist Lindsey Vonn was also forced to pull out of the Sochi Olympics, also with a knee injury.
Fast forward four years and both are back on the mountain fully recovered and with many more World Cup starts to their names. They meet at Jeongseon, South Korea in March 2017 not for the first time, but notably, for the first time on the course where the medal races will take place in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
Having finished 38th in the 2016 World Cup and followed up her first podium finish in Vermont with a string of second and third-place finishes in both Downhill and Super-G, Sofia Goggia is looking to finally go one better and claim her first World Cup gold.
Lindsey Vonn meanwhile is looking to retain and re-establish her dominance. She won the downhill title in both 2015 and 2016 but slipped from Super-G champ in 2015 to the third-place finisher the following year.
Sofia Goggia finished first in both races in South Korea. Lindsey Vonn placed second, a mere +0.07 back in the downhill and just +0.04 off the pace in the Super-G.
“It was amazing,” says Sofia. “Especially because Lindsey Vonn showed up in qualification. When I crossed the finish line and saw I was ahead by a 100th [of a second] I was so happy. I couldn’t believe that I had won my first World Cup.
“I’m always honoured to be skiing with a legend like Lindsey Vonn, but also Mikaela Shiffrin and all of the others of course. Five years ago I was just looking at Lindsey on the TV, and then a few years ago I started competing with her and now I’ve beaten her in a race.
“It really is a dream come true.”
“I love the sport but even more than that, I love competition. It’s the will of racing and racing to win that moves me…”
On that day Sofia claimed her first two gold medals and set off 11 months of speculation over whether she would be able to repeat her winning result in Jeongseon at the Winter Olympics in February. The Winter Olympics are now less than two months away.
“I won the only two races that were in South Korea on the Olympic track, and they were on the test track for the Olympics, so of course everyone is asking me about that and I really do like the course, but we all know that things can change for better and worse from one day to another and from one year to the next.
“There will be different conditions and lots of different factors come February, so I hope that it will get even better for me but the Games are definitely still open.
“Of course though, like every athlete, you go to the Olympics because you want one thing – a medal.
“When you win you are the best in the world in that moment, but most of all it’s the end result of the trail that took you to that victory. It’s in that moment you complete your achievement. I was really happy about South Korea, but also particularly because of all that work that came before that World Cup and how it all counted.”
And that work was plentiful. Looking at a timeline of Sofia’s life in skiing is like looking at a long-term plan for how to set an athlete up for international success.
“I started skiing when I was four,” she tells us. “I have an older brother Tommaszo who is two years older than me and who started skiing first. When I was three years old I saw him skiing all the time and wanted to get involved. My mum didn’t let me, but the winter after that she brought me out to ski and I wanted to do everything my brother was already doing.
“I was lucky because I had a ski teacher who always believed in me and saw a little bit of talent and really helped me get confidence as a kid. Someone asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up when I was six years old and I always said I wanted to be a skier.
“I love the sport but even more than that, I love competition. It’s the will of racing and racing to win that moves me. It’s the passion for sport, but most of all for competing.”
It’s that drive which Sofia credits for her rise to the elite level of the sport, and the physical conditioning programmes and winter meditation that followed which she pins down as the reason she was able to move from competitor to gold-medal winner in the season past.
Sofia might be reluctant to admit that she is now one of the favourites for a medal spot come the starting gates in South Korea next February, but her instinctive competitiveness shines through when you ask her about her ambitions.
“The greatest skiers at the Olympics are the three at the top,” she says. “And the others are forgotten. If you are fourth you are nothing.”
It’s a truth you don’t hear Olympic athletes admitting every day.
We will have to wait to see if Goggia will indeed be able to reproduce the speed that saw her beat Lindsey Vonn and the rest of the field down the mountain in PyeongChang come March. The Jeongseon race course has already given Sofia her first taste of victory though, and we’re betting there are few other spots in the world where she would rather be competing to turn that World Cup gold medal into the most famous golden prize in sport.
Stay tuned to our Dainese Luminaries hub for more from the world of ambition and adventure.
Next month we speak to Brady Leman, the Canadian ski-cross racer who missed out on a medal by one place at Sochi 2014, and is hoping to go at least one better this time around in PyeongChang.
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