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A comparison of the skier’s two best seasons

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A comparison of the skier’s two best seasons

Lara Gut-Behrami won the overall World Cup thanks to her impressive consistency. But the triumph was followed by a major turning point. What is different today.

Her most successful year to date: In 2016, Lara Gut-Behrami not only won the overall World Cup, but also the small ball for the best Super-G rider of the season.

Jean-Christophe Bott / Keystone

In 2016, the duel for the overall World Cup had just come to a head when Lindsey Vonn was injured at the end of February and missed the remaining races. Now Lara Gut-Behrami is missing another American as her toughest competitor: As long as Mikaela Shiffrin doesn’t know if and when she will return to racing, the Swiss can expand her lead in the overall World Cup from five to many points. Of the thirteen days of racing still remaining, there are only two slaloms that the 32-year-old is not racing.

Of course, Gut-Behrami herself doesn’t want to know anything about the overall victory, which is also the same as in 2016. She only talks about the big ball when she has the big ball, “even if I can understand that it is an issue,” as she said in Crans Montana says.

The Ticino woman is racing in her 16th season in the World Cup, and this weekend in Crans-Montana could be her best. Although she is still 308 points behind her record from 2016, other statistics are within reach: At that time she achieved 13 podium places and 6 victories in 32 races. She already has six first places this winter, even though she has only driven 19 races; She finished on the podium more than half of them, eleven times in total.

When Gut-Behrami triumphed in 2016, people thought she had found and put all her puzzle pieces together. On the one hand, there was her consistency. In the winter of 2013/14 she won seven times, but her performances varied too much; In the overall ranking it was only enough for third place. In 2015/16, however, she had reached such a good level of skiing that she achieved more than two podium places in four disciplines – back then the super combination still existed. As today, she was strongest in the giant slalom and the Super-G, but she also won twice in the downhill, which is still missing this winter.

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Lara Gut-Behrami has already won the same number of times as in 2016

Gut had also become more mature and lost less energy on sideshows. She was finally well integrated into the association; Her father Pauli Gut, her coach throughout her life, was employed by Swiss Ski on a contract basis, but the small team still trained according to his ideas. It brought in various big names for input, from Daniel Albrecht to Patrice Morisod.

Didier Cuche helped her for a week in preparation for the 2015/16 season to adjust to the new material after changing ski brands from Rossignol to Head; she also took over his service man Chris Krause. She made the change remarkably quickly and got off to a strong start to the season: fourth in Sölden, victory in Aspen. Five months later she concluded the season with two podium finishes at the World Cup final in St. Moritz.

Lara Gut-Behrami flies towards the finish during downhill training at the 2016 World Cup final in St. Moritz.

Gian Ehrenzeller / Keystone

She always wanted to keep working – until it was too much

So everything is good? Not at all. However, she was not aware of this at the time. Looking back, this sporting highlight also marks the beginning of a turning point in Gut-Behrami’s career.

After the major success, she was accompanied by a film team for a year and a half. The Ticino filmmaker Niccolò Castelli said afterwards that he found Gut-Behrami to be a tired and stressed person. Even in the moment of triumph there was no exuberant joy. On the day the ball was handed over, she said that things were getting better and that she had to keep working. The NZZ asked her the following autumn whether the overall World Cup victory would be a relief, after experts had confirmed that she had the potential to do so at the beginning of her career.

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“That doesn’t change much,” she replied. “All last winter people were asking, ‘Is she going to win it or not?’ When I got the ball, they said it wasn’t deserved because other strong riders had gotten injured. Now I have to defend the ball to show that I can really do it. And if I manage to do that, the Olympics will come and people will find something they can ask of me again.”

Even before she was of age, she financed the family business and her team with her skiing. She had grown up in the public eye and did everything she could to be successful, but at some point the pressure became too much. In the winter after the overall World Cup victory, her cruciate ligament, an emergency brake in her body, tore at the home World Cup in St. Moritz, as she described it after a month-long withdrawal. During this break she found herself as a person again, after the previous years she had only existed as an athlete.

That’s different today. Not least thanks to her husband Valon Behrami, she has found a balance between sport and private life – which has a positive effect on her performance. After tearing her cruciate ligament, she endured three tough years in terms of sport. But in the 2020/21 season she found her way back to her old strength; Since then, she has been at an outstanding level, especially in giant slalom and super-G – and has managed to improve further every season. Her consistency this winter is outstanding: she only finished outside the top 6 in two races, although an irritated knee caused her problems at times.

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When she talks about her favorite discipline, giant slalom, she goes into raptures after her four victories this season so far. “No matter what the snow conditions are, whether the slope is steep or how the course is set up: I feel 99 percent comfortable on the skis, and that makes it easy,” she says in Crans-Montana.

Strong 2024: Gut-Behrami was only ranked outside the top 6 twice this season. Here she is celebrating her ride at the Super-G in Zauchensee, with which she won the race.

Christian Bruna / EPA

The first victory in the giant slalom classification also awaits

The result of this security is “a certain uncompromising nature in your turns,” as Didier Cuche says. “Even if it slips slightly, the ski stays in the direction of travel.” She is heading for her first victory in the discipline rankings, 135 points ahead of Federica Brignone. It is clear that this little ball would mean a lot to the Ticino woman. “I’ll tell you how much at the World Cup final in Saalbach,” she says with a meaningful smile.

Such a high technical level is also possible because she has been working with the same material for nine years, and with service man Thomas Rehm for eight years. The detailed work pays off. Father Pauli is still there as a trainer, although no longer employed by Swiss Ski. Gut-Behrami has been working with Alejo Hervas for five years; he is a fitness and ski trainer in one and can therefore react to everything on an ongoing basis.

With three good races in Crans-Montana, Gut-Behrami could be in the lead in the overall World Cup. “Everyone can dream,” she said in Valais, but immediately made it clear that she didn’t think so. This season in particular has shown how quickly it can be over.

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