Longines ambassadors Mikaela Shiffrin and Aksel Lund Svindal each had a piece of wisdom to offer the teenage athletes competing in the Longines Future Ski Champions race.
Svindal’s advice: “have patience.”
Shiffrin’s advice: “have fun.”
In an effort to nurture the next generation of ski champions, Longines invited the best 15-year-old ski racers from 12 countries to sample a taste of the big leagues for the Future Ski Champions race on Friday. The event took place on the same slope as the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden. Under a blue, cloudless, sunny sky but amid frigid (-18C) temperatures, the top-ranked U16 male from Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, Finland, South Korea, Japan, Canada, the United States and Austria competed in a two-run giant slalom format.
Italian Lorenzo Thomas Bini was the athlete to set the pace, throwing down the fastest first run with France’s Benjamin Hoareau on his heels and Swedish athlete Anton Rosnas in third position, both less than a half a second behind the Italian going into the second run. The same line up ended up on the podium, Bini on the top step, then Hoareau second and Rosnas third. American Jack Reich, fresh off of winning the overall U16 Rocky Central Division last weekend in Winter Park, Colo., finished fourth.
With the victory, Bini claimed the illustrious status of Longines Future Ski Champion, winning a crystal globe etched with the names of the previous Future Champions. He was also awarded a gold medal, a brand new Longines and a check for 20,000 U.S. dollars donated to the Italian Ski Federation.
“It was the [most] important race in my life,” Bini said after the race. “It’s a fantastic experience to be here, then the race goes well. I skied well, so I’m happy.”
The Italian, who hails from Sestriere, said he was a bit nervous leading into the second run. He views this victory as a springboard for fulfilling his ski racing dreams to come.
“Fingers crossed for the future,” he said. “I will continue skiing because I love it. The World Cup is my dream. This is the firs step and then I have to continue working for becoming stronger every day.”
Bini is thus on his way to that goal of patience that Svindal preached. The Norwegian superstar presented prizes to the podium finishers and offered a congratulatory handshake to each of the 12 athletes. He recalled the first big race of his own decorated career as a 16-year-old competing on the same hill in Are.
“I did very badly,” Svindal recalled. “Looking back when I did the first race here, that seems like a long time ago. Then I won my first World Cup here in 2006. That was 11 years ago, but it doesn’t seem that long ago. Patience is what I would say. I remember the pressure and how nervous I was, the pressure that you put on yourself really, because you want to be fast. In that age, when you’re trying to make it, there’s so much to take in. After that, on the World Cup, you keep learning, but you’re around the same people. In that age, it’s constantly something new, especially if you’re doing well. Every time you do well, you get bumped up to the next level, then you’re starting in the back again. You have one bad race and you think it’s the end of the world.”
If Svindal, who has come back from multiple ghastly injuries to win big and ultimately become the oldest Olympic ski champion, isn’t a shining testament to patience, nobody is. For teenager racers, he has this to say:
“Whatever method you could use to make it … I wouldn’t say less serious, but less like it comes down to this single moment, do it,” he says. “Don’t make it too serious. You try to get better, try to get better, but each race is not the end of the world. Each race is learning something to get to the next level.”
Which brings us to Shiffrin’s advice:
“The first message for the athletes in this Future Ski champions Race is to enjoy being here,” she says. “I think back on my Future Ski Champions moments, for me it was in Whistler or Topolino – it feels in some ways like a long time ago but it also feels like it was yesterday. Those races felt like the biggest things I’d ever experience. For these athletes, it’s probably close to one of the first times they’re getting that world-class experience. It will be great for their future in ski racing but also for their future in life. After ski racing, they’ll look back on this experience and say, that was so incredible to go to these races, to meet some of my idols in ski racing, to be inspired like that. You take that inspiration with you.”