YANQING, China (Reuters) – Switzerland’s Lara Gut-Behrami finally got her hands on super-G gold at the Beijing Games on Friday, completing her long and often painful journey from teenage prodigy to Olympic champion.
Gut-Behrami has been the face of Swiss women’s skiing since bursting onto the World Cup scene as a 16-year-old but, while she has been a consistent force on the World Cup circuit, it was not until last year’s world championships that she was finally able to add major event gold to her list of achievements.
The 30-year-old, who has now added to that haul at her third Olympics, credits the late career success to gaining perspective about life and the ups and downs of skiing.
“I am really happy to have got that gold … but you can’t build your life around winning gold,” she said.
The Swiss had suffered the agony of finishing fourth in the past two Olympic super-G races — missing the podium by a hundredth of a second in Pyeongchang and seven hundredths in Sochi.
The 30-year-old could be forgiven for thinking she was cursed at the big events with only a bronze in downhill at Sochi to show for her efforts.
But after picking up another bronze, in the giant slalom here on Monday, she produced a fluent run to secure gold.
“I just thought it was probably going to be my last Olympic super-G of my life and I just wanted to show something great. I just wanted to ski,” she said.
“I am happy that this time I am fast enough because last time for sure I was fourth and it was always tight. It’s not bad to have the hundredths by my side this time,” she added.
Born in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, she took part in her first World Cup race at Lienz in December 2007 and finished on the podium in her first World Cup downhill at St Moritz two months later.
The first of her 34 World Cup wins also came at St Moritz the following December when, as a 17-year-old, she became the youngest skier to win a World Cup race in super-G.
“I was skiing fast but I had no clue what was going on,” she said, reflecting on the period when she was catapulted to celebrity status in Switzerland.
“I was so young, I was a kid and so many things happened and I didn’t know how to deal with them.
“I grew up with the cameras on me, I always did my best but sometimes I was just lost, had no idea what was the best for me,” she said.
A series of serious injuries dogged her career but she remained a constant podium presence in the World Cup and World Championships.
But last year she made the breakthrough — becoming world champion at Cortina d’Ampezzo in super-G and giant slalom.
“A lot of things changed in my life,” said Gut-Behrami, who is married to Swiss international footballer Valon Behrami.
“I met my husband after the injury (in 2017). Probably he was the key that I started to think less. I started to talk more with my family too,” she said.
“I think the moment I started to have a real life around skiing, having a balance in my life and realising it’s not just about skiing was the key.
“Sure, I am always angry when I am skiing bad but I realised at some point that I had to stop that and that I am first a person and then an athlete.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans, Editing by Richard Pullin)