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It was Switzerland’s Corinne Suter who won Olympic gold in the women’s downhill on Tuesday, but it was Italy’s Sofia Goggia who stole the show. The Italian, the current leader on the women’s World Cup downhill circuit and defending Olympic downhill champion, finished second behind Suter. It wasn’t the victory she’d hoped for, but it was yet another Olympic lesson in strength, perseverance, and the power of self-belief.
On Jan. 23, 2022, Goggia suffered what, for many, would have been a season-ending injury. During the second downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, she dramatically crashed out of the course, later discovering she fractured her fibula and sprained her ACL.
Would that be the end of the 29-year-old’s Olympic dream? Of course not.
Goggia was riding a season of highs, boasting six World Cup wins and once again leading the downhill standings. Goggia had no intention of missing the Winter Games. If this was god’s plan for her, she wrote in an Instagram post, she was ready to welcome and accept it with open arms “and keep going ahead.”
Drawing inspiration from the greatest downhill skier of all time and her personal idol and friend, Lindsey Vonn, Goggia would pull herself up by the bootstraps and fight for an opportunity that comes once every four years.
“The path to come here after the crash in Cortina was tough, but I had no room for doubts,” she said. “I really did believe that I could make it; this is why I did it.”
So on Feb. 8, Goggia flew to Beijing, and just 23 days after her injury, she stepped into the start gate to defend her Olympic downhill gold.
Goggia skied 13th, behind Team USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin. A stark difference in styles showed just how much Goggia wanted that gold medal. Where Shiffrin skied more reserved and calculated, Goggia pushed the limit, skiing with her signature “devil-may-care” style reminiscent of the retired Vonn. Impossibly on edge, yet still in control. Just like her idol before her, an injury wouldn’t stop her from putting up the fight of her life at 70-plus miles an hour. May whatever happens, happen, as long as the skiing is fast.
She blew through the finish with the green light, 0.41 ahead of her countrywoman, Nadia Delago, who would go on to take the bronze. Cries of joy echoed throughout the stadium as Goggia celebrated her success.
But her time only held for two more skiers as Suter, wearing bib 15, crossed the line 0.16 seconds ahead of Goggia’s pace.
Defeat momentarily stole the smile off of Goggia’s face until reality sank in. Goggia knew she couldn’t charge. On a scale of zero to 10, she rated her overall physical condition at a 5.5. She had just recently begun to bend her knee, and could barely do a squat. Days before the race, she started walking “like a normal person.” Gold medal or not, the alpine skiing world saw her performance as nothing short of awe-inspiring.
“It feels a little bit impossible that she’s here, after that crash,” Shiffrin, who finished 18th just behind teammate Keely Cashman, commented after the race. “It’s a significant injury, and she got everything together to be able to race in this downhill. She has a silver medal. I mean, it’s unbelievable. I know she’s been dealing with a lot of pressure, and this whole season she’s just been shining through with it. It’s just incredible that she was able to come today and perform.”
Goggia picked up the phone to reach out to her closest supporters in her moment of gratitude. Vonn was the first person she called.
“Thank you, Lindsey; we all love you,” she said. “Me, I am your biggest fan. You’ll always be my idol and your support in the last days means everything.”
Did she defend her Olympic gold? No. But she did defend her legacy. Even at 50 percent, Goggia reminded the ski world that she is a force to be reckoned with.