First place winner Karen Putzer of Italy competes in the Women’s Giant Slalom on December 28, 2002 during the FIS World Cup in Soemmering, Austria

Interview with an olympic hero
Learning how to turn setbacks into victories is par for the course in the world of sport
1 Dec 2022

Becoming an Olympic champion takes both talent and extraordinary effort. What is your message to athletes chasing this goal?

The day I won my Olympic medal, I was late at the start gate and my bid number 2 didn’t look promising. Most likely, I was going to be a good forerunner for the following competitors. Luckily enough, I learned through some hard landings to turn anxiety and obstacles into motivation and energy. I knew that I was already behind the others before getting out of the starting gate, which made me go even faster, and I arrived at the finish line with a huge advantage. The waiting at the finish for the other competitors to come down was a pain. This is just to say that, as an athlete, if you’re ready to face the obstacles and challenges, you can make the difference.

Eight world cups and a few accidents along the way. What would you say to young athletes who want to give up at the first obstacle?

My coach used to say, “We only give up letters.” I’d say try first, because you won’t do professional sports for your entire life. It has a limited duration anyway, and this opportunity won’t come back to you. I was told at the age of 25 to stop doing sports. Not competing, but sports in general. And I thought that at this point, before stopping, I could just give it a try. As a result, I won my eighth and last World Cup race after three months of recovering from injury. I am not saying to always insist and persist, and I also admire athletes who acknowledge the right time to quit and take care of their health. But I always saw sports as a privilege that not all of my peers had, and I was fortunate enough to practice sports as a leisure activity after school and I never saw it as a “real” job.

Not that it has always been fun, especially as there hasn’t been any understanding yet of combining sports with school. Nothing, however, can provide a comparable experience and shape your character like sports. And you will benefit from this for the rest of your life afterwards too.

In Europe, sports like this can open doors to humanitarian action through international organizations. Can skiing achieve this?

Skiing, in particular alpine skiing, is not the most appropriate sport for humanitarian actions, especially in terms of supporting refugee athletes. I was impressed by the work and the time some of my colleagues were putting in to the IOC Refugee Olympic Team for Tokyo 2020, and I would love to transfer my experience to refugee athletes participating for the first time in the Olympic Winter Games. 

* Julián Ginzo is a member of the Editorial Board of UN Today.
Read more articles about 3 QUESTIONS