How high-school student Alice Robinson beat the best in the world
© Erich Spiess/ASP/Red Bull Content Pool
Kiwi skier Alice Robinson was still at school when she won her first FIS World Cup at the age of 17.
It sounds like something from a typical 17-year-old's pre-exam anxiety dream. Standing at the top of the hill, about to set off on a make-or-break run, it's like the whole skiing world is watching and waiting for you to mess this up.
That's exactly the situation in which New Zealand's Alice Robinson found herself in at the opening weekend of the 2019-20 FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup in Sölden, Austria. While her classmates back home were fretting about exams, a near-perfect first run in the giant slalom had put Robinson in second place behind only the all-conquering Mikaela Shiffrin. Everything hung on the next minute.
The rest, as they say, is history. She held her nerve under the most intense of pressure to beat Shiffrin by just 0.06s, becoming the youngest World Cup winner since Shiffrin herself seven years previously.
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The big picture:
While a World Cup win for a high-school student will always seem like it's come out of the blue, there had been signs that this was coming. The previous year she'd become New Zealand's youngest Olympian when competing at the PyeongChang games.
She'd also taken a surprise silver medal in the giant slalom at World Cup finals in Andorra at the end of the 2018-19 season.
This wasn't to be a one-off either. Robinson repeated her success in the World Cup giant slalom race in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia the following February.
The long road:
The journey to that gold in Sölden began when Robinson was just four years old and the Robinson family moved to Queenstown, the centre of all things alpine in New Zealand. By eight she was racing competitively, and racking up junior titles all the way up to that precocious appearance at the Olympics.
The hopes of a nation:
What makes Robinson's achievement especially notable is that she's also something of an outlier. New Zealand has a wealth of ski destinations, but until recently the nation had been undergoing something of a medal drought.
She's not the latest off the production line of Kiwi skiing talent, but may be leading the way. Her World Cup win was the country's first since Claudia Riegler back in 1997.
It's not just what she won that made this victory special, but who she beat. Mikaela Shiffrin has swept all before her over recent seasons and there's no sterner test for an alpine skier currently.
"It means a lot to beat Mikaela," Robinson said. "She's been so dominant and it makes me really excited for the season coming up."