Weirather follows in family’s Olympic tradition

Few athletes at the Sochi Olympics were born to succeed quite

like skier Tina Weirather.

Weirather’s early-season results on the World Cup circuit, which

include two runner-up finishes in downhill, make the 24-year-old

racer from Liechtenstein a strong candidate to take Lindsey Vonn’s

title in the marquee race.

If she does, Weirather will add a chapter to an illustrious

family story.

Her mother, Hanni Wenzel, was a two-time gold medalist at the

1980 Lake Placid Olympics and combined with Tina’s uncle, Andreas

Wenzel, to win a total of six medals in three Winter Games from

1976-84.

Weirather’s family has won two-thirds of all the Olympic medals

ever earned by Liechtenstein’s athletes, in summer or winter

sports, since the tiny principality first sent teams in 1936.

In addition, her father Harti placed ninth in the Lake Placid

downhill representing his native Austria.

Weirather told The Associated Press in a recent interview that

growing up in a family of Olympians, world champions and overall

World Cup winners was ”just normal for me.”

”I don’t know it any different because I grew up like that,”

she said. ”I don’t know how it is to have other parents and that’s

why I don’t have a problem with it.”

Weirather was born in 1989, nine years after her mother’s

dominating display in Lake Placid – gold in slalom and giant

slalom, silver in downhill behind Austrian great Annemarie

Moser-Proell.

When growing up, Weirather said trophies and medals were not

prominently displayed in the family home in Planken, but parental

advice stays with her.

”Well, they told me that at the Olympics everyone is a little

bit more nervous and a little bit different to every other race.

It’s hard to do the same as you always do when you’re successful,”

said Weirather, who raced far from the spotlight as a 16-year-old

at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

Hanni and Andreas Wenzel won medals at the 1980 Olympics – his

was silver in giant slalom – before completing an astonishing

family double: Both were the overall World Cup champions that

season.

”The Olympics is like `Today is the day,’ and I think that is

more pressure than you have when it’s about the overall,” said

Weirather, who leads the overall standings.

Reaching new peaks at 24 is ”kind of surprising” to her this

season, though injuries slowed the long expected rise of the former

junior world champion.

Many skiers joke that it takes at least one serious injury

before a racer has a true Alpine career. Even so, it hardly seemed

fair that Weirather endured four ruptured ACLs before her 21st

birthday. Her right knee has blown out three times and the most

recent was the worst.

In January 2010, three weeks before she was due to arrive at the

Vancouver Olympics, Weirather crashed out of the World Cup downhill

in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.

”I knew from the first moment that it was broken and it was the

third time in the same knee so you never know how that turns out

and if it is ever going to be good again,” she said, calmly

recalling such a difficult period.

”There were a lot of bad days where I thought that I won’t make

it, where I thought it’s impossible for me to ever get where I am

now.”

The comeback was signaled in December 2011 when, wearing bib No.

40, Weirather finished second to Lindsey Vonn in a downhill in Lake

Louise, Canada. Two more podium finishes followed and she was

runner-up to Vonn in the season-long downhill standings.

Her progress slowed again last season after sustaining a shin

injury – similar to one Vonn had in Vancouver – back in Lake

Louise.

”The shin is like the part where you feel the snow and the ski,

and you get a lot of pressure on the shin. When that part hurts you

just can’t ski fast,” Weirather said. ”I just tried really,

really hard and it just didn’t work out. That was tough.”

Still, she broke through in March with a first World Cup race

win, in a super-G in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Her mother was there to see that victory, and again for the next

one – on her 57th birthday this month – in St. Moritz in

super-G.

Hanni Wenzel and Harti Weirather, who run an international

sports marketing business from Planken, would seem to be lucky

charms for their daughter. Yet she plans for them to stay away from

the Olympic course, where she finished fourth in a World Cup

downhill in February 2012.

”No, they won’t come,” Weirather said. ”I thought it’s better

when I do my thing all year and that’s what I do in Sochi,

too.”