LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland — Still only 24 but already a World Cup champion, Austrian skier Anna Fenninger says she struggled to cope with expectations in the past.
Fenninger was anointed the “next big thing” as a teenager in her ski-obsessed home nation after winning back-to-back overall titles in the second-tier Europa Cup.
Speaking Friday, the day after clinching the overall World Cup title, she recalled the difficult times before fulfilling her potential.
“Everybody (said), ‘Yeah, she’s the next World Cup winner.’ I was 17 and, yeah, it was just too early,” Fenninger told reporters.
Within the past month, the quietly spoken racer has become an Olympic champion and earned the right to be called the world’s best all-around women’s Alpine skier. Still, she said she will wait to celebrate her success after competing for the season-long World Cup giant slalom title on Sunday.
Her early struggles seem far distant since, as a 17-year-old, she completed just one of 10 races that debut season.
“I felt a bit alone there, and too young,” she said. “I had my trainers and they were new for me and I had to know how they are and how they work. Everything was new. I felt not that confident.”
Fenninger pointed to a career-changing gold medal she won at the 2011 world championships, in the super-combined, for her first victory at the top level.
“It was very important,” said Fenninger, who decided around that time to stop racing all five events. “I had not that physical shape for that. I was too young for that.”
She focused on the speed events of downhill and super-G, and gradually returned giant slalom to her program. Her last World Cup slalom was in December 2011.
Fenninger’s title perhaps closes a World Cup era dominated by the five-event all-rounder.
Lindsey Vonn, Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Tina Maze combined to win the past six overall World Cups with a grueling program of trying to start every race.
“It’s very difficult,” acknowledged Fenninger. “What Maria is doing is, for me, it’s awesome.”
Their expected title duel this week ended when Hoefl-Riesch crashed in Wednesday’s downhill while dealing with a heavy cold. It also affected the German at the Olympics, where she won a third career gold.
Fenninger’s first Olympic gold, in super-G, and subsequent silver in giant slalom helped her believe she could win the World Cup.
“Maybe that was a big reason why the last races in the season were so good,” said the new champion.
Fenninger will receive her giant crystal globe trophy after the season-ending GS, which is her last chance at a discipline title. She finished runner-up in the downhill and super-G standings.
By then, her childhood race rival Marcel Hirscher might have clinched his third straight men’s overall title to complete a double for Austria and their home region, Tennengau.
Fenninger was coy Friday on whether she ever beat Hirscher back when they were youth prodigies.
“Maybe,” she smiled.