Petra Vlhova: Five things you didn't know about the 2021 overall World Cup champion
The 25-year-old burst onto the scene when she became the 2012 Youth Olympic Games slalom champion, before taking out the slalom title at the Junior World Championships in 2014.
But it was at the 2019 season where Vlhova announced herself as a potential Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic gold medallist.
In January of that year, having finished as runner-up to double Olympic gold medallist Mikaela Shiffrin in the first five classic slaloms of the World Cup season, Vlhová defeated her rival in Flachau. She took home a €70,000 winner’s cheque and perhaps more importantly, showed the world that she could challenge the American.
She then backed up that performance in the 2019 World Championships in Are, Sweden, where she outskied Shiffrin in windy conditions to win the Giant Slalom gold medal, and last season she was awarded the slalom globe.
The Liptovsky Mikulas native topped it all by securing her first overall World Cup title after dominating the 2020/2021 season.
But how well do you know the Slovakian star?
1) Unorthodox training methods
We’ve all heard of cross-training: when athletes train for their sports through playing another sport, but what about cross-rhythms?
That’s right, Vlhova practises playing the drums with Italian musician Jack Alemanno in order to improve her hand and feet coordination!
Away from the snow, she also enjoys wrestling with a Krav-Maga self-defense instructor, cycling, tennis, kayaking, climbing, and has even been spotted running in the open country-side with a parachute attached!
Even in her skiing warm-up, she likes to incorporate other sports, often activating her explosive muscles before competing in the World Cup through speed skating.
"Skiing is an outdoor sport and I think it’s not good to confine yourself to those four walls. A top skier needs to adjust to the different situations they face," Vlhova’s Italian coach Livio Magoni told Olympic Channel.
"When I work on her fitness I often come up with new exercises which are functional for her and her weaknesses, it’s a constant work in progress."
2) A passion for motocross
We can’t imagine that coach Magoni is so thrilled about Vlhova’s other hobby outside of skiing: motocross.
She was introduced to the sport by her brother Boris, and has even competed in some summer races.
"A lot of people think I'm just going for a ride. It is not true. I practice balance, coordination, I strengthen my stomach, legs and arms, and of course, it's also about courage,” she told Pravda Sport.
“It's a good workout and I'm glad I can do something I enjoy in preparation. I'm not the only one. Austrian Marcel Hirscher and Henrik Kristoffersen also ride. Some may argue that it is dangerous, but I can also break my leg by stumbling. At least that's how I see it."
3) The best of rivals with Mikaela Shiffrin
With medals, money and prestige on the line, the world of elite sport can often leave little room for empathy.
The pressure to win can even sour relationships between rivals, but the same cannot be said for Vlhova’s relationship with Shiffrin.
In a moment of respect and true sportsmanship, the American gave Vlhova a consoling hug after she made a mistake in a slalom race in Maribor, Slovenia.
“I have a big respect for Mikaela because for me she is a true champion: she won a lot of races and now she's the best skier in the World Cup,” the Slovakian told Olympic Channel.
“It was a nice hug: I just finished fifth, I made a mistake and I was really sad. She came and she gave me a hug and it was nice because sometimes you need it...We have a good battle all the time when we race so it was a nice gesture.”
4) A small, but trusted team
Petra comes from a country with a small ski association and limited facilities.
Therefore, in order to compete at the top table, she has taken a leaf out of idol and compatriot Veronika Velez-Zuzulova's book in building her own support team.
Head coach Magoni (who previously mentored Slovenian legend Tina Maze) is supported by assistant Matej Gemz, Vlhova's brother Boris and fitness guru Simon Klimcik. Meanwhile Marco Porta looks after her nutrition and Matteo Baldissarutti works as an advisor. There is also an equipment man, a team manager, two physiotherapists, and a finance manager.
A perk from her sponsor Niké sees the skier travel to competitions by private jet.
“She’s my president so the decisions are made very quickly,” Magoni said. “I just talk with her and it’s either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
5) Petra Vlhova’s growing popularity
Slovakia's most famous athlete is three-time cycling world champion Peter Sagan, who boasts a whopping 1.8 million Instagram followers.
"He loves what he does, and he's a special person, he's very authentic. When you see Peter Sagan on TV, this is how he really is. Whatever happens to him, he always remains the same person," Vlhova said of her compatriot.
Volhova is yet to reach such dizzying heights of social media clout, but with 165K followers and counting, the skier is currently the most followed female athlete in the country after retired tennis player Dominika Cibulkova.
Simona Jagerska, Vlhova's sister-in-law, takes care of her social media channels.