By Nick Mulvenney
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Sofia Goggia shed the chaotic ‘crazy horse’ of her reputation and embraced her inner Samurai to give Italy its first women’s Olympic downhill champion on Wednesday.
Described as the “crazy horse” of the Italian team by manager Massimo Rinaldi, and “crazy, in a good way” by German rival Viktoria Rebensburg, Goggia found her own unique way to describe what athletes usually call being “in the zone”.
“I knew this was my day,” she said. “When I saw on the gondola the sun rising up, I felt good. I put my boots on and I was really centered, you know?
“I paid attention to every little detail, moved like a samurai. Usually I’m pretty chaotic (but) I focused on all the tiny things I had to perform to do my downhill.
“It was not about the medal, it was about my downhill. Afterwards, you turn your head and see your time and how the other racers have done.”
The 25-year-old had clearly rediscovered her natural effervescence as she bounced around the Jeongseon Alpine Center after upstaging Lindsey Vonn in the American great’s final run in the blue riband event of the Olympic program.
Goggia has enjoyed a fierce rivalry with Vonn on the World Cup circuit this season, winning two downhills and twice finishing second behind the American to lead the standings in the speed event.
Like her rival, Goggia missed the Sochi Olympics because of a knee injury and Vonn said she had given some advice to the Italian at her home last November.
“She asked me how to deal with the pressure and expectation and I told her, which probably helped her,” Vonn said after finishing third.
“She’s always a person that I’ve admired and if there’s someone that’s going to beat me, I’m happy that it’s her because I know she’s worked her tail off and she’s put in the time to get there.”
Vonn’s advice may well have been to focus on herself and her skiing not all the other things going on around her and, if that was the case, Goggia put it to good use on Wednesday as she avoided the mistakes that left her 11th in the super-G.
“I came here in Korea with one goal, to beat Lindsey,” she said.
“This was good, but here I realized that though this duel was really good, it wouldn’t have helped me out so much because I have to be focused on myself.
“I feel like a real honor to be racing with the greatest skier of all time on the female side. It’s a huge honor for me just to race with her,” she added.
Vonn had also helped inspire Goggia when she was a teenager watching the 2010 Winter Games, the Italian recalled as she battled to digest her new status as an Olympic champion.
“I remember when she won in Vancouver and I said I wish one day I can be there racing at the top,” she said.
“I still haven’t realized that I am the new gold medalist. I feel like I am going to erupt as soon as I get it.”
(Additional reporting by Simon Evans and Mark Trevelyan, Editing by Greg Stutchbury)