Slalomist Petra Vlhova (SVK), who learned to ski at the Jasna resort in Slovakia’s Tatra Mountains, began harbouring aspirations of Olympic glory at a young age. At the Winter Youth Olympic Games Innsbruck 2012, she had various chances to achieve that goal, but initially could only finish ninth in the super-G, and fourth in both the super combined and giant slalom. Only the slalom remained, and on 20 January, the Liptovský Mikuláš native overcame snowy conditions to excel between the gates at Patscherkofel and prevail at the inaugural Winter YOG.
Exhibiting extraordinary suppleness, accuracy and speed, Vlhova dominated both runs to take gold with a one-and-a-half-second advantage over Roni Remme (CAN) and a two-second advance over Ekaterina Tkachenko (RUS). “I’m very happy – this victory represents a lot of things for me. But winning a medal in Sochi would be even better!” she said directly after the race.
Reflecting on her success later, she stated, “My first thought was, ‘Oh, the medal’s really heavy!’ But it was an absolutely incredible feeling to stand on top of the podium and realise that I had beaten everyone. When my national anthem began to play, I started to cry.
“Winning that gold medal really boosted my confidence and proved to me that my hard work had paid off. The skiing world is starting to notice me, and my sponsors have been very encouraging – it’s been quite an emotional time.”
Path to Pyeongchang
Two months after her YOG triumph, Vlhova picked up a bronze medal at the Junior World Ski Championships in Roccasaro (ITA). Subsequently, during the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, the then 18-year-old finished 24th in the giant slalom and 19th in the slalom, but a few days later, in front of a raucous, partisan crowd in Jasna that included her family and close friends, the up-and-coming Slovakian was crowned junior world slalom champion, registering the third fastest and fastest times in the first and second runs respectively.
The young Olympian continued her ascent to the upper echelons of the slalom scene the following year, obtaining a laudable seventh place in an FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup event in November in Aspen (USA). And that result was just the start of a breakthrough winter which saw Vlhova, wearing bib number 19, hold off the challenge of Frida Hansdotter (SWE) and Nina Løseth (NOR) to claim her first World Cup victory on 13 December in Åre (SWE). “It’s been a big day for me – my first win and my first podium,” she said. “I don’t know what to say; I’m so happy! What a rollercoaster of emotions.”
A knock-on effect of her triumph in Sweden was a place in the top 15 of the slalom world rankings, a status she lived up to in Lienz (AUT) on 29 December, finishing third. In the night slalom in Flachau (AUT) on 12 January 2016, Vlhova clocked the best time of the second run to move up from 11th to sixth. Three nights later, on the same course, she clinched third spot to make another podium appearance. Boosted by this series of successes, the Alpine ski racer now has her sights firmly set on a medal at Pyeongchang 2018.