Q&A with Maria Jose Rienda ContrerasMaria Jose Rienda Contreras was nearly 30 years old when she won her first World Cup race, 11 years after her debut on the tour. The charming skier from Granada, Spain, one of the most picturesque cities in Andalusia, became an outstanding giant slalom specialist after years of hard work. She finished third in the 2004-05 World Cup GS standings, as she did the previous season. Rienda Contreras grew up skiing the resort of Sierra Nevada, host of the 1996 FIS Alpine Ski World Championships. She is the first Spanish World Cup standout since the days of Blanca Fernandez-Ochoa, an Olympic bronze medalist in 1988. Her next target is a first medal in a major competition – perhaps in Sestriere at February’s Olympic Winter Games. Rienda Contreras recently spoke with Ski Racing magazine’s Patrick Lang.
Ski Racing: Maria, tell us about start in ski racing?
Maria Jose Rienda Contreras: Normal skiing is popular in Spain, where there are several nice areas, but alpine competition has no routes. I was fortunate enough to live in Sierra Nevada when I was younger. My parents run a sport shop there. The conditions are mostly excellent in the winter, so it’s really nice to ski there.
But then I went to Granada to study and it was more difficult. Yet at the end, I made it back on my skis to be with my sister and I started my World Cup career here in 1994, in downhill. I was 56th – less than half a second behind my sister Raquel, but more than seven seconds behind the winner, Hilary Lindh. In fact, it’s the only downhill I have ever entered on the World Cup tour.
SR: And then what happened with your career?
MJRC: After this, I competed at the Olympics in Lillehammer, where I finished 21st in giant slalom and 29th in super G. I was happy. I was only 18 and I thought this was just great. The following winter, I scored my first World Cup points and I won my first two titles at the Spanish championships. But I moved up slowly afterward. I also sustained some injuries.
In October 1999, I finally made it into the top 10 in World Cup at Tignes. In February 2002, I was sixth in GS at the Olympics in Park City after clocking the third-best time in the first run. It was tough for my nerves!
In October 2003, I reached my first World Cup podium at SÃ¶lden. It was a great moment for me and my staff. We had to fight so hard for this during all those years. It was crucial to create some interest for our sport at home, because our media only care about winners in less-known sports as ski racing. In Spain, football, cycling and Formula 1 are very big, so there is not enough space left in the newspapers and on TV for athletes who don’t belong to the world elite. Now I belong to the circle of winners since Are and Lenzerheide, and in two years two technical World Cup races will be organized in Sierra Nevada, so everything is fine for me!’
Read more from Maria Jose Rienda Contreras in Issue 5 of Ski Racing magazine.