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Lara Gut-Behrami wins the overall World Cup – companions tell us

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Lara Gut-Behrami wins the overall World Cup – companions tell us

Companions talk about encounters with Lara Gut-Behrami – and talk about the development of the controversial ski racer.

At the top of the world for a decade and a half: Lara Gut-Behrami will go down in history as one of the most successful Swiss athletes.

Maxim Thore / Imago

There was no victory in the last World Cup giant slalom of the season in Saalbach. But 10th place no longer played a role for Lara Gut-Behrami: she not only won the giant slalom discipline ranking for the first time, but also the overall World Cup for the second time after 2016. Six people who accompanied the Ticino woman on her journey tell their stories.

Tina Maze, 40, former racing driver

Lara and I used to train together a lot when we were traveling with our private teams. That helped us both. She spoke Italian with my trainer and partner Andrea, which I didn’t understand at the time, but she sounded so likeable that I always had to laugh and wanted to learn it too. She was such a ray of sunshine, incredibly communicative and open-minded.

I thought: How does she manage to have this energy all the time? What does she do for herself? She gave, gave, gave, and I wondered where this was going. When you’re available for so many things, you lose yourself. Of course she has a lot of energy, but you need it for the races! Now she has learned from it and uses all her energy for herself and skiing. This is the right way.

When was the first time we were on the podium together? In St. Moritz 2008? She came third when she crashed at the finish and I won with start number 47. Everyone loved her, the crowd in St. Moritz went crazy for her.

The 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi were not a good moment for them. Dominique Gisin and I won downhill gold, she was third and had tears in her eyes. I felt sorry for her, I wanted to cheer her up a little so she wouldn’t be sad. I didn’t even see her run because I had a late start, but I think she was mad because she made a mistake, not because I won.

Mauro Pini, 59, Trainer

I’ve known the Gut family for ages; Pauli and I grew up together. Lara was around 12 years old when she first trained with me. I was training with the Spanish World Cup rider Maria Rienda Contreras in Airolo, and Lara did a run with me.

In 2005, Lara traveled alone to Bormio to train with us for three days. She was only 14 years old at the time and still only lost a second and a half per run. Maria and I traveled to Åre. The Spaniard won the World Cup there for the first time, and on the same day Lara won the famous Trofeo Topolino children’s race in Italy. Lara was precocious, technically strong, but above all mentally much further than the others. It was incredible the attitude with which she trained.

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When she came to the World Cup and Pauli founded the private team, I was there as a coach. We worked consistently, but it was also a fun time. Lara was like a force of nature that was gaining momentum. In 2008, at the age of 17, she won the World Cup for the first time, and two months later she won World Cup silver twice. There she was like a tsunami sweeping through the ski circuit.

There were also times when she felt a little alone because she had to shoulder a lot of responsibility early on. She needed time to digest everything, the successes, the public appropriation, the setbacks. But today she lives from all these experiences, which has been clearly felt over the past two months.

I now train a competitor, Petra Vlhova, and in this role I watch with interest every day what Lara does – how she drives, what she says and does. Lara is an integral part of my everyday professional life.

Rainer Salzgeber, 56, racing manager

Our collaboration began on the ski lift in 2015 during the World Ski Championships in Vail. We have been looking for a strong woman in Switzerland for a long time. As I happened to be sitting next to Lara and her father Pauli on the lift, I asked if she was interested in testing Head Skis in the spring.

Head was very successful in Vail, and Lara’s best friend Anna Veith, also a versatile athlete, skied on our skis. Lara wasn’t entirely satisfied with her results that winter, tried out our material, changed and won the overall World Cup the following winter.

She provides us with important input for the development of the material, but unlike some other athletes, she is not very demanding. There are people who, after every unsatisfactory result, look for a fault in the material and demand that we make changes. Once Lara has found the set-up, she trusts it.

Her service man Thomas Rehm knows this and works with her accordingly. He doesn’t constantly suggest new things to her, but rather works with what suits her. This is also true for an athlete who wins races in three disciplines. She doesn’t have the time for endless tests but needs to work on her driving skills.

How Lara works was demonstrated a few years ago when we built a new ski boot that worked very well. She drove the old model for another year because she trusted it. When it comes to shoes, she is very sensitive; she even notices when our supplier doesn’t make the exact same plastic.

Ellade Ossola, 59, Ticino television journalist

I have been a sports journalist for thirty years. In the entire period, Lara is the athlete who has the most potential in communication: she is polyglot, intelligent, a winner and – even if it bothers me that it plays a role – pretty. And she has charisma when she wants to. And yet I have the feeling that it was often a struggle for us. After the races, she is the first person to come in front of my microphone, on Ticino television. That is not always easy. How good the conversation will be depends on how she drove and how I phrase the questions.

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She sometimes has trouble with these flash interviews because she would rather go into more depth. If given the opportunity, she’s very strong, but we can hardly do longer shoots like this anymore because she’s not up for it.

This is the strong character she has always had: she makes a decision and follows through with it. That’s who I am and I accept and respect that. I don’t stress her out about it, but sometimes it’s difficult to explain to the audience why she doesn’t want to talk on camera.

The fact that we are both from Ticino did not give us a special relationship. Lara never sought Ticino, she was never able to unite the people of the canton behind her like Michela Figini, about whom everyone still raves today.

In two moments I saw Lara completely carefree: On the one hand, when she won the giant slalom at the 2021 World Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo. She was really happy about the gold, and because of Covid there were fewer people on site, which meant less stress. And on the other hand at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin. As a 14-year-old girl, she was there as a fan and was simply fascinated by the Olympic world and the proximity to the champions.

Hugues Ansermoz, 60, former head coach

Even though Lara didn’t grow up in the Swiss Ski squad, we knew something was coming. The first time I saw her was at the Swiss Championships in 2007, she was 16 and won the Super-G by over a second ahead of riders who were among the best in the World Cup.

What impressed me at the time was her instinct for the line. The Super-G is the most difficult discipline, you are moving fast and cannot train your line selection beforehand. Normally this takes a lot of experience, but Lara just knew what to do.

The following summer we traveled to New Zealand with the national team for the first time. We had little money and therefore only took athletes with us who had their own service man. That wasn’t the case with Lara, but I definitely wanted her there. So I reactivated my 71-year-old father, who had once prepared the skis of Lise-Marie Morerod, Erika Hess and Vreni Schneider.

The two harmonized wonderfully, and Lara continued to contact my father regularly for years to come. Her father Pauli wasn’t there in New Zealand, but he accompanied her the following winter when we integrated her into the Swiss team. That didn’t work because Pauli always wanted to go his own way. There were people who said that Lara only takes and gives nothing.

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After one season it was clear that we had to find another solution. Lara had never been part of a large team before and she was unable to adapt to the demands of the association coaches. There were a lot of discussions and in the end the private team Gut was created. She promptly won two World Championship silver medals in 2009, but we had mixed feelings: That was good for Switzerland, but she was not our athlete.

When I see her today, I am thrilled. Lara has managed to improve in all areas at over 30 years old. I didn’t expect that when I first saw her on our team. She didn’t choose the easiest path and had difficult years. Today she knows herself better than ever before. And she smiles more often.

Urs Lehmann, 54, Swiss Ski President since 2008

Lara Gut-Behrami’s career is unique in our country. We had similarly young superstars, I’m thinking of Michela Figini, Olympic champion at 17, overall World Cup champion at 18, but retired at 23. Lara rose meteorically at a young age, at 17, but a decade and a half later she is still at the top, with all sorts of successes, because she consistently followed a path that no one in Switzerland had taken before her.

What people often underestimated: the importance of the private team. As appealing as this term may sound, a private team is perhaps the logical consequence if a superstar has won the overall World Cup several times and has four or five personal coaches. But the Gut family didn’t make the decision to join the private team at the moment of their greatest success, but rather at the beginning, when Lara was a teenager and there was neither a lot of money nor the certainty that sporting success would come. This was extremely risky, incredibly challenging, incredible uncertainty, incredible interdependence within the family.

Today she is largely integrated into the Swiss women’s team. Lara and Swiss Ski, that was a process of rapprochement between two demanding systems, and it is nothing but normal that people do not always have the same opinion during this process. But what matters today: Lara will go down in sports annals, and in fifty years people will still be telling many stories about her and sometimes smile at that.

My story to make you smile: Swiss Ski had a clarifying session with her, her father and her manager. I would say she was 19, her father Pauli started to talk – then Lara took his arm and said: “Dad, now I’m talking.” That hit me, I thought: “Wow,” I would never have been able to do that at 19. From then on I understood more. Taking on this responsibility for a family and signaling: “Dad, I know you mean well, but now it’s up to me” – that impressed me.

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