Last February, in Méribel, France, Laurence St-Germain became the first Canadian woman in 63 years to win an alpine skiing world championship. The day was a triumph, and it was also the culmination of a series of unusual events. In conversation with CBC Sports' David Giddens, St-Germain describes an extended moment of celebration and strange turns.
After my first run, I was in third place overall.
Some stress began to build up in my mind. I was really stoked, but the pressure was big. While I was getting dressed, I mentioned how tense I felt about my upcoming run. My teammate told me that I hadn't done anything different than in training, so I shouldn't stress, because I've done it many, many times. Her comment really calmed my nerves. So between the rounds, while I was thinking “Oh my God, I'm in third place,” I was also clearly visualising my course, to make sure I had the right plan to make a good run.
As the second start approached, I was nauseated from the tension, but I wanted my physio[therapist] and my technician to be relaxed because it was new for them too, you know, being in that position. So they were unsure how I was going to react. I kind of faked feeling alright, to let them know that I was okay, so they could joke around and say whatever they wanted, and just be chill.
From that moment on, quite a few odd things happened.
Between runs, I always watch video. I want to see my form and make adjustments. But this was the first time I actually didn't watch anything. I sat down and I took the camera in my hand and thought, "you know what? I'm not going to watch it. I'm going with my feelings."
It just kind of clicked. That was a break from my routine obviously, but I wanted to think about the run I still had to do, and I knew how the first round felt, and if I did the same, I had a chance for a great result. So I literally had the camera with the little screen, and I thought: "I don't need this!" It was this moment of confidence that I never felt before. I didn't need to consider what the other racers did or see what I can do better. I just knew that if I did the same it would be good, so that made my day flow so much better.
Another unusual moment as I was waiting to go on my second run…
There were maybe five skiers ahead of me. Because it's warm and sweaty in the hut, I always put my goggles on at the last minute, so they don’t have time to fog up. On this day, for whatever reason, as soon as my physio handed me my goggles, I put them on right away. Wow! My brand new goggles were really blurry! What’s going on? I could just see enough to know that my physio and technician were both ready to spring into action. They could tell something was really wrong, but they didn’t know what to do.
So I took my goggles off, and only then remembered that because they are brand new, they still had a plastic protective film that needed to be peeled off. Doing that, and then just having a moment’s laugh at this easy fix, it made me happy, and calmed me down.
Then came a technical error that turned out nicely.
At the start of the race, there’s a little pitch at the top that becomes flat before another break. I just got kind of pushed backwards at that flat. It’s hard to see it on video, but I definitely felt it. And you know, when you become unbalanced, if there's a really big turning gate after, it could be a missed gate or a lot of lost time, but I was able to come back into it really fast. It was not a huge mistake, but it was definitely enough to wake me up, focus my attention and say to myself "No, no, no, be smart! Stick to your plan!" I think that little slip maybe made me attack even more.
I had pushed really hard out of the gates. Sometimes you get in the zone and it’s almost like you kind of black out. But that off-balance moment snapped me back. Suddenly I had clarity: You can’t make mistakes. Don't do this to yourself now. That little slip brought me back into ideal race focus.
When I was talking with Mark from Alpine Canada about the world championships, he reminded me about other odd stuff that happened, a lot of which I had totally forgotten. There are still so many parts of that day that are a blur.
But after I had done my medal ceremony and also some European media on TV, we were leaving to go to the hotel. So we were getting out of the garage and just as we leave, two trucks are trying to get through a narrow space side by side. And they did not fit. So they squashed into each other and the drivers were fighting and yelling and blaming each other. And we just wanted to get past but we were stuck behind these guys and their dented trucks for a really long time! I was just so tired and hungry and I wanted to get back to the hotel and celebrate with my teammates, too. But that low-speed truck accident, it set us back quite a while.
And another weird moment, let’s call it ‘lost in translation.’
Since this was my first world championship win, it was also my first time doing all the European media. So the number one interview was Austrian-German or maybe Swiss-German. I don't speak the language, so they gave me an earpiece with the translator’s voice. I didn't know how it was going to go, but the interview was super. The minute they started talking, what came in my ear was clear. I wasn’t quite sure how to react at first, because when they were asking me questions in German, there’s a few seconds lag while I am getting an understanding of what is being asked. But the translator, she was great. Okay, so it is a good start to the media process. After that, I went to a Swiss French interview, and that was easy because I speak French.
But then I had to do Austrian TV I think it was, in German again. I thought “Oh, I know how to do this now. It's fine. Give me the earpiece.” The host starts asking the question, and it’s a long one. But the guy that is in my ear just froze. He was not translating for me. And the host finished talking but I still had no idea what was being asked. So we were just looking at each other smiling and I thought, "there might be a little bit of a problem here."
Finally, the tranlsator compressed this long, 45 second question into a simple “How did you feel after the race?” Which was definitely NOT the question that I had been asked. So I took a run at a rambling answer. Hopefully it was okay, but really, I still have no idea what they actually asked me.
Another thing, kind of funny that day, I didn't know when to take off my boots because in the finish, I had the podium to do, and then it was all just go, go, go! I had to get to the media, one after the other, and it was so busy.
There was a FIS (International Ski and Snowboard Federation) guy helping me go everywhere, because people were talking to me and congratulating me and then immediately after that I was brought to the press conference.
So when I clomped in, still wearing my boots, the first person I see is Mikaela (Shiffrin) who is fully changed and everything. I was still in my ski boots, my suit, all that gear. I had no idea.
So I sat down and this little family came at me and they were like, “Oh my God, you’re the one that won the race!” So I signed their autographs and took pictures with them, and they were really cute. I guess after that was when I was finally able to take off my boots, but it was probably two hours after the race! So, I still have lots to learn about how these things go.
That day in Méribel was great, don’t get me wrong. It just didn’t all go as you might have expected. The next time I get off to an excellent start in a big race, I’ve got some new stuff to consider adding to my routine!
Top large image: AP/Alessandro Trovati