Right now, Alice Robinson is probably the hottest ticket in New Zealand secondary school sport.
Last week at the season ending senior elite ski racing [FIS Alpine] World Cup Finals in Andorra, Alice finished second in the giant slalom - a massive achievement.
There was little time for celebration, leaving the snow the following day and boarding a plane bound for home and back to a normal teenaged life as a year 13 student at Wakatipu High School in Queenstown.
“I am back home at school now, but will probably be going to America in May to a camp in California, but I will do a few blocks in New Zealand during the winter and then prepare for the World Cup season that starts in October in Europe," says Alice.
Alice was in illustrious company on the podium in Andorra last week, and she admits it is still sinking in.
“Winner Mikaela Shiffrin is the current Olympic champion and World Cup champion for giant slalom and then the skier who finished third behind me, Petra Vlhova, is the the current World Champion – so it is quite good company," Alice modestly acclaims.
The season ending World Cup finals in Andorra saw the top ranked giant slalom women from the season come together for the event. Alice earned her World Cup finals entry by winning the giant slalom at the Junior World Championships last month.
“Normally there is about 70 in the field, but this is World Cup finals and only the top 20 are invited and I also got invited because of winning World Juniors, so I was running last.”
Remarkably, Alice, the youngest competitor in the field, skied down the course after all the others to record the third fastest time after the first run of two, before putting in a sizzling second run to finish in the silver medal position and finish just .0.30s behind world number one Shiffrin of the USA and ahead of Slovakian Petra Vlhova.
Above: Watch Alice Robinson's second run in Andorra last week, that saw her climb from third to second in the season-ending event. Big crowds at the bottom of the course and lots of New Zealand support.
This was New Zealand’s first World Cup medal in 17 years. What does she attribute this stunning success to?
“I have been skiing really well and my training has been going well. I knew it was possible, but I knew I had to put down a really good run so it was pretty exciting,” says Alice.
After finding herself in contention halfway through the event, what was Alice thinking? “People asked me if I was nervous but I was more just excited because I knew it was a really great opportunity and whatever happened it was still going to be an awesome result so I just tried to keep calm and have some fun.”
Alice said it was also special to be crowned Junior World Champion a few weeks previously – the first time a New Zealander has won a junior world title in alpine ski racing.
“The World Juniors was where I was based in Italy in the Dolomites, so it was really cool to win that. After the first run I was 0.9s behind the leader, and then I had another good run and managed to win.”
She recorded the fastest time on the second run to win the Junior World Giant Slalom title by 1.06s, with Swiss and Norweigan skiers second and third.
Prior to winning the Junior World Championships, she finished second at European Cup giant slalom races in Berchtesgaden, Germany on 9 and 10 February, followed by a 17th place finish at the senior World Championships in Are, Sweden.
“That event in Sweden was a breakthrough for me, I started in 38th and had the fastest second run.”
Last year, then 16-year-old Alice was selected as New Zealand’s youngest ever Winter Olympian, beating her teammate Nico Porteous for that honour.
She was selected for the Winter Olympics in Korea after being ranked 67th in the world. 2018 giant slalom gold medallist Mikaela Shiffrin is the only other athlete in FIS history who has progressed as fast as Alice did in her first year as a FIS athlete. Alice finished 35th of the 58 skiers who completed the women’s giant slalom.
In 2017 Alice won the U16 giant slalom, finished second in slalom in Slovenia, and was also the winner of the US U16 National Championship giant slalom.
Alice says the Olympic Games and subsequent success of Nico Porteous and Zoe Sadowski-Synott in snowboarding has also motivated her.
“It is really cool to have New Zealand doing well in snow sports, because we are pretty small here compared to Europe and North America and it is pretty exciting to have more competing across the board.”
Perhaps what is even more remarkable about Alice’s rise to the top in elite women’s ski racing, is her background. While most of the top Europeans are born into alpine climates, Alice’s early years were far removed from the snow.
“I was born in Sydney and moved to New Zealand when I was four.”
Moving to Queenstown, her family started skiing at nearby Coronet Peak. “I joined the racing programme and started from there.”
On the World Cup circuit, Alice is based in Italy and competes most weekends. Her Italian-based coach Chris Knight is a kiwi but other New Zealanders are few and far between. “There is one other New Zealander competing on the World Cup, but I am based with an international group and we travel together.”
Do her parents watch her race? “Yes, they came over a couple of times this past season and watched me race, they were over for the World Juniors.”
Giant slalom is her main focus. “I also have had some good results from Super G, which has bigger turns, and slalom as well.” The weekend before her season ending second place, she finished second in a Super G World Cup event in Italy.
There’s no skiing in New Zealand for a few months, but Alice admits she is already gazing up at the mountain with regularity “My house is right underneath Coronet Peak so I kind of look at that a lot, and the same while I am school.”
Alice also has a background in other sports, and has played competitive netball in Queenstown/Southland and has played football and also rippa rugby when she was younger. Following her short break, she will soon start going to the gym for a few hours a day most days of the week.
Alice Robinson – a year of firsts:
Bradley Mcdowell (Whanganui High School) has won the third annual Junior Rural Sportsperson of the Year Award.
McDowell first started cowboy shooting at 12 years old, and has been New Zealand junior champion in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
He is currently New Zealand North Island overall men's champion, New Zealand overall men's champion, Wyoming State junior champion, 2018 World junior champion, 2018 World’s fastest junior cowboy title, and is currently ranked seventh in the World overall men's Championships.
McDowell achieved his world title at the age of 16 and is youngest New Zealand shooter to do so.
His goal is to become the world's number one shooter and to get more young people introduced to the sport in New Zealand.
The award was presented by Olympic and Commonwealth Games triathlete Tony Dodds.
The other finalists were equestrian Briar Burnett-Grant (Taupō-nui-a-Tia College, 2018) and harness racer Sheree Tomlinson (Darfield High School, 2016).
Burnett-Grant won the 2018 Olympic Cup, the Premier League Series and a World Cup event, and placed in the top three in the 2018-19 FEI World Cup Series.
Tomlinson has made a big impression in a short space of time in harness racing. She dominated the Australasian Young Drivers Championship in Australia. She led from the early stages, takin both Well Fancied and Rough Chance horses to victory to gain maximum points. This followed her history-making win in the 2017 Dominion Handicap – New Zealand’s most famous race for trotting horses.
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