Italy's history-making skier Federica Brignone shares her mantra: "You only live once"

Olympics.com spoke to the Italian Alpine skiing record holder about her outlook on this Olympic season, her Beijing 2022 goals and why it's important to open up about mental health. 

By Michele Weiss and Gisella Fava
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Federica Brignone made history last Sunday (12 December) with her triumph in the women’s World Cup Super-G in St. Moritz.

Her first podium - and victory - of the season made her the most successful Italian skier in terms of number of wins (17), as she overtook 90s Italian legend Deborah Compagnoni.

In 2020, she also became the first Italian woman to win the overall World Cup title. Brigone’s record of race wins began in 2015, when she took her first World Cup victory - a giant slalom in Soelden. She now has seven victories in this discipline, in addition to five in the super-G and the same number in the combined event.

Federica Brignone of Italy takes 1st place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Giant Slalom on October 24, 2015 in Soelden
Picture by 2015 Getty Images

With her last super-G victory, she also overtook Karen Putzer and Sofia Goggia (both on four victories) as the Italian skier with the most super-G wins.

She also has one senior and two junior World Championships medals to her name and an Olympic bronze, which she won in the giant slalom at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Federica Brignone of Team Italy competes during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Super G on December 12, 2021 in St Moritz Switzerland.
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Olympics.com spoke to Brignone last October at the FISI media day in Milan, where she opened up about her teammates, mental health and her thoughts about this season. Reading her words today, they have proven to be more accurate than ever.

Olympics.com: Sofia Goggia spoke about you and your teammates using musical metaphors. She is an electric guitar, Bassino is a violin and you are a flute, because you have the ability to work in a harmonious, consistent manner.

Federica Brignone: Yes, that’s nice. I like that musical instrument, but I love the guitar so it’s not fair! However, I’d say the acoustic guitar is my favourite.

OC: You are part of the strongest Italian women’s ski team of all time. How does that make you feel?

I think we’re a strong team because we are three hard workers. Having such strong competition at home has raised the level of training. I have skied for so many years with great champions and I learnt a lot from them. Afterwards, I tried to ride the wave of Emanuela [Moelgg], Denise [Karbon], Chiara [Maj] and Nicole [Gius]... They helped me a lot and inspired me greatly. They were an example to me because I spent the early years of my career with them.

OC: You reached your 44th podium in the manner of a certain Deborah Compagnoni…

And with so many victories (at the time it was 16). It’s crazy that we have the same number of wins. Obviously my first goal this winter is to win a race… I feel honoured because, for me, Deborah was a great champion and so it’s incredible. I can’t get my head around it.

Deborah Compagnoni

OC: Although you did well last season, you said it wasn’t much fun. How do you feel now?

I definitely feel more serene. During spring and summer I was doing different sports and had fun. Rather than take a break I worked out a lot. However, for once I was doing things I liked and I love the adrenaline that comes with that. I always think you only live once, and that’s true. Sport is really important, skiing is my life but there are so many other things I needed in order to find peace and joy again… even on skis. 

OC: Is your motto this year “you only live once”?

Always!

Federica Brignone of Team Italy takes 1st place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Super G on December 12, 2021 in St Moritz Switzerland.
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

OC: What do you think about the new format of the FIS World Cup?

This summer, I haven’t been too bothered about it. My first goal was to win a race.

Afterwards, we will look at my season goal, which is to qualify for the Olympics in as many disciplines as possible. The competition in Italy is high and I would like to compete in as many disciplines as I can. Obviously, my biggest dream was to win the overall World Cup title, and I achieved it. Of course, if I was there (at the Olympics) it would be my biggest dream.

However, there is so much competition and I think it is correct to make the number of races even, because there have always been far fewer super-G races than downhill and I don’t think that’s right…

It’s true to say that women are better in the four [Alipine skiing] disciplines, or at least two or three of them. There is more competition in the women’s category than the men’s, from that point of view For those aiming for the overall World Cup title, it would be best if it was more like biathlon, where there is at least one difference per discipline, because it’s practically impossible to go out every weekend and do well. So it would perhaps be useful for the safety of the athletes.

OC: Beijing 2022 is just around the corner and you will arrive there having already been on the podium. Over the last two seasons, it seems like your focus has been on the super-G. Would that be true to say?

I don’t know. I won medals in the giant slalom at both the Worlds and the Olympics and I think the giant slalom is the mother of all Alpine disciplines. Obviously, super-G is my favourite, the one I enjoy most… and I’d like to win an Olympic medal in either of them. I don’t care which! (laughs)

OC: You were one of the first athletes to talk about the stress top athletes face. Tokyo 2020 was a watershed moment when it came to female athletes talking about mental health...

Yes, it’s true for many athletes. You had Simone Biles in Tokyo and also Osaka… many athletes in many sports. I think that all elite athletes are on the edge. Every athlete has to deal with a lot of things and be on the limit in order to be at their best. And it’s hard when you’re under the spotlight. Over the years, many of us have had to hide our weaknesses because we couldn’t really reveal them. What’s been happening over the last few years has affected all of us. We carried on training and preparing, but at what cost? That added extra pressure on us at an elite level and we faced the ultimate test that made us all more vulnerable.

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