Hope amongst all the1994 Sister city sorrow and passing the Kiwi baton.
The Lillehammer winter games started under a dark cloud as her sister Olympic city, Sarajevo, lay in ruins. The result of a bitter civil war. The games though, as they came to a close were healing for many. Unfortunately not for the New Zealand women and neither Annelise Coberger, at her last Olympics, nor protege Claudia Riegler, at her first, were able to finish their specialty event, the Slalom. Seventeen year old Claudia had managed a 25th place from 55 starters in her first run but failed to complete her second. As Annelise bowed out of Olympic competition Claudia picked up the torch to begin in earnest what would be another illustrious Kiwi ski racing career.
1998 World Cup Glory to Olympic disappointment
What Annelise had started, Claudia carried on. These two slalom specialists were the first Kiwi women to really make their mark in World Cup ski racing. Annelise had skied powerfully and consistently into a World Cup second place overall in the 1993 season and during the 1997 season Claudia delivered 3 World Cup gold medals and one bronze on her way to second overall in the World Cup competition.
Unfortunately she wasn’t able to carry the same domination into the 1998 season and the Nagano Olympics in Japan. In a slalom race where Australia managed their first Winter Olympic medal (a bronze) a full 6 years after New Zealand’s silver Claudia failed to finish her first slalom run (of 57 starters only 27 actually completed two runs) and left disappointed but determined to try again.
2002 Second best ever in Salt Lake City
These winter games were lucky to be held with financial and bribery scandals surrounding the Salt Lake bid for the games and trouble securing the funding for the whole event. Then security issues for such a big international event in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks meant that it was doubtful the 19th Olympiad would be held at all. Eventually the decision was made to go ahead. The big sporting story at the games was the victorious Canadian ice hockey team who defeated the USA on home ice for Gold, the first time since 1952 that the Canadians had won the Olympic medal.
Claudia arrived in the USA a triple Olympian and committed to a result worthy of her skiing career. 77 World Cup starts, 8 World Cup podiums and 4 World Cup Golds. Once again Claudia found herself the lone New Zealand woman skier in the team. She completed her first run in 17th place and went on to exorcise her Olympic demons with a second run finish in difficult, heavy snow conditions to deliver an 11th place overall. An outstanding Olympic result but one that probably doesn't do justice to this skiers brilliant career as a genuinely World class racer.
The second best Olympic Alpine result ever for a Kiwi.
1992 Single digit silver.
Who cares what else happened in 1992. On the Meribel Olympic slalom course a young woman from Christchurch New Zealand came within half a second of slaying one of the giants of women's skiing, Petra Kronberger. Two Kiwi women arrived in France to compete; Annelise Coberger and Lisa Powell.
Speed skiing was introduced as a demonstration sport and Powell hurtled down the 2 km Les Arc course at 193.9 km/h into a brilliant 9th place finish. Lisa remains New Zealand's fastest woman on snow and her NZ record of 209.424 km/h set that same year is eyewateringly fast.
Earlier that season Coberger had been busting down the World Cup skiing doors that had previously been closed to New Zealand skiers and still hadn’t finished doing it when she won the silver Olympic medal in the Winter Games at Albertville, France.
This wasn't a time where there was no competition at the top level of women’s ski racing. This wasn't during some freakish weather or snow conditions that played a part in a lucky break for the New Zealander. This was a level playing field, well it was sloping like a ski race course should be, but the same for everyone. The starting line-up was powerful with two of the all-time greats of women's skiing; Kronberger and Vreni Schnieder both intent on winning gold.
After a slightly off the pace initial run (8th quickest) in the slalom event. Annelise gave it absolutely everything she had the second run, knocking nearly five seconds of her first run time, beating eventual gold medallist Kronberger by finishing fastest, all but demolishing the Austrian's first run lead and putting herself into 2nd overall. Silver Olympic medal.
Genius, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Photo: Annelise Coberger flies the Kiwi flag at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.
NEW ZEALAND'S OLYMPIC WOMEN
2006 Forza Italia
The Torino Winter games was, American junior prodigy, Julia Mancuso's first major success as a senior skier and the 21 year old won Gold in the womens Giant Slalom. Two New Zealand alpine women arrived in Italy to ski for their country; Aucklander Erika McLeod had come back from an injury in 2005 to competitive form and in FIS races in the USA leading up to the games the 24 year old had produced some strong podium results. Nicola Campbell was reigning NZ GS Champion and was training and racing in Europe and the USA leading up to the 2006 Olympics.
Neither girl finished the Giant Slalom but both delivered results in the Slalom; Nicola finished 35th and Erika 40th.
Photo: Claudia powers through heavy snow on her way to an 11th place finish at Salt Lake City.
Photo: Erika McLeod at the 2006 Torino Winter Games.
12 year Hiatus
New Zealand Alpine women have not skied at an Olympic Games since 2006 missing Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014. As we enter the selection period for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea it is looking increasingly likely that a new female Olympic hopeful might be sharpening her edges. Who knows what the future might bring.
Twelve years is a long time between drinks ladies.