Maria Riesch claims a maiden Olympic gold

The Olympic arena has produced some great friendships between athletes of different nationalities, none stronger than the one that developed between Germany’s Maria Riesch and the USA’s Lindsey Vonn. But they were also great rivals on the Alpine ski circuit and their friendship was put on hold at the starting gate.

Going into Vancouver 2010, Vonn was the main star of women’s Alpine skiing, while Riesch was one of her main challengers. The German was a talented all-round athlete, who had also played tennis and cycled at national level. But it was on the Alpine circuit that she truly dazzled, and by the age of 20 she had become Germany’s top female skier.

Having missed the 2006 Winter Games through injury, she was determined to make up for lost time in Vancouver, entering all five events.

Her campaign began in muted fashion, as she finished eighth in the downhill, aware that she had to improve in the combined the following day. The USA’s Julia Mancuso set the early pace in the downhill element, with Vonn then beating her time. Picking up speed late in her run, Riesch finished only 0.33 seconds behind her friend and was confident she could pick up time in the slalom.

Remarkably, the early lead in the slalom went to Anja Pärson, who had somehow recovered from an enormous crash 24 hours earlier. Mancuso eventually bettered her time before Riesch opened up a huge 0.94 second gap at the top, throwing down the gauntlet to Vonn, who pushed herself so hard in a bid to match the German’s pace that she lost a ski at one of the gates. That mistake cost the American a medal, while the delighted Riesch claimed a maiden Olympic gold.

Her second medal came in the final women’s Alpine event, the slalom. Dealing well with the tricky conditions, Riesch was fastest in the first run and then skied a calm and speedy second to take gold by 0.43 seconds from Austria’s Marlies Schild. The German left Vancouver as the only Alpine skier of either gender to win two gold medals.