Olympic skier defies odds to win silver just 3 weeks after devastating crash

BEIJING (AP) — The toughest time for alpine racer Sofia Goggia — aside, of course, from the accident itself which partially tore a ligament in her left knee and caused what the Italian team called a “minor fracture” in that leg – came when she first put on her skis after arriving in China for the Olympics.

It was 16 days after being injured. And that was a week before she was to defend her 2018 downhill gold medal. Well, at that point, Goggia was just hoping she felt well enough to try on Tuesday.

“I knew I had to make huge progress. I was almost afraid just to free ski. Afraid to trust my leg. Afraid to trust me again. My knee still didn’t feel good,” Goggia said, explaining that everything got worse three gates after her first practice session, when she fell and slipped into the safety net.

Sofia Goggia of Italy celebrates after finishing the women’s downhill at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

“A huge blow, psychologically. I got up. My whole leg was shaking. I thought I made the situation worse. It turned out not,” Goggia said. “When I got up I said (to coach Gianluca Rulfi): ‘I don’t know if I can do this.'”

Not only was she in the starting grid on Tuesday at the National Alpine Ski Center – something Mikaela Shiffrin called “incredible” – but Goggia managed to perform well enough on that sometimes sore bad leg to win an Olympic medal. silver, finishing just 0.16 seconds behind champion Corinne. Suter from Switzerland. Another Italian, Nadia Delago, finished third.

When asked if it was the biggest achievement of his career, Goggia replied: “Subjectively? Yes. Objectively, depending on the color of the medal? No. But what was it for? does he drive? Yes.”

When she crossed the finish line as the 13th runner on the course known as The Rock, Goggia saw that she had set the fastest time so far, leaned over and shouted to joy.

Either way, she had a shot at becoming the second woman in Olympic history to win back-to-back gold medals in the downhill. And a chance to extend a whole streak: Goggia had won the last eight World Cup downhills she had completed, a streak that began in December 2020.

Except that, two skiers later, Suter, 27, posted what would be the best time, 1 minute, 31.87 seconds.

Suter became the first woman since Lindsey Vonn in 2010 to simultaneously hold world and Olympic downhill titles, making Switzerland the first country to have four athletes each win an alpine gold medal at a Winter Games. Suter joined Lara Gut-Behrami (super-G), Beat Fuez (men’s downhill), Marco Odermatt (men’s giant slalom).

“You want to be as fast as them,” Suter said, “and then you push every day.”

After falling during pre-season training for the World Cup in September, Suter said, she was in constant pain and had used crutches for a month.

Goggia was told she had to use crutches for at least 10 days after her accident on January 23 during a World Cup super-G stoppage in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. No way that would happen, she decided. That wouldn’t leave enough time to recover. So it was three days.

“I don’t think anyone, maybe, knows all the details of his injury. But it’s a big injury,” said Shiffrin, who was 18th, 2.49 seconds off Suter’s pace and one place behind American teammate Keely Cashman. “And it seems kind of impossible that she got here and got everything together to be able to race this descent. And she has a silver medal.

Goggia arrived in Beijing on February 7, three days after the opening ceremony, departing from Milan with a group that included Canadian skier Marie-Michele Gagnon. Goggia shared details of her “exhausting” rehabilitation during their flight and bus ride from the airport in China.

“Huge respect for her. She can do it; no one else can do it. Only Sofia can do it,” Gagnon, who was eighth on Tuesday, said of Goggia’s quick return to the tracks – and the “And she knows it. She says it too: ‘I know I’m coming back stronger from my injuries.’

Still, considering everything she had been through to get there, Goggia didn’t deny that she was a bit discouraged to miss out on another gold medal.

Goggia could sense that it might happen though.

She didn’t feel the fastest on this trip down the hill. Maybe it was the way her left knee ached when she tried to squat deep during a sharp right-to-left turn. Maybe it was the wind that was slowing her down: the start of the race was delayed by 30 minutes after gusts were measured at 40 km/h (25 mph), and some skiers put on colored strips of tape athletic on their cheeks to protect themselves from a cold that felt like minus 15 degrees F (minus 25 degrees C).

“I have to say it was a tough time,” said Goggia, who missed the world championships last year due to injury. “Today really was perhaps the easiest day.”

Goggia was loudly cheered on by the Italy Ski Team staff members. Members of the media in her country offered her high fives and hugs or stopped her to pose for selfies. She spoke on the phone with Vonn. There was also a video call at home with mum, who spoke loudly enough to tell reporters about “Goggia’s incredible personal growth that I’m very proud of.”

After the medal ceremony, Suter, Delago and Goggia posed for the photographers. Goggia knelt on the snow with her right knee; she bent her left knee and draped her money over it.

She got up and hobbled on the snow.

A journalist wanted to know if Goggia was dedicating this performance to someone special.

“No. No one,” she began.

Then she thinks better.

“Me,” she said, placing her palm on his chest. “Myself. I was the one in the starting grid.

AP sportswriters Andrew Dampf and Daniella Matar contributed to this report.


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