The Italian Downhill Lion’s youngest attacking force, Nicol Delago, is on her way to becoming a downhill top-ten regular on the World Cup tour. In the 2018/19 season, the now 23-year-old speed skier was coming off her first year of skiing on the World Cup tour full-time. She made her debut on the tour in 2015 at St. Moritz and spent the next two seasons bouncing back and forth between World Cup races and Europa Cup races, trying to find her footing. Her first top ten came in January of 2017 when she finished ninth in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, followed by a 10th place finish in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 2018, and a seventh-place finish in Lake Louise early on last season. It was only a matter of time before Delago broke onto the podium, and she did so in the best way possible.
Race cancellations due to bad weather in Val d’Isere led to a last-minute reschedule at the only venue capable of holding a downhill at the time, her hometown of Val Gardena. The Saslong’s notorious “Camel Humps”, a section of terrain unlike any other on the World Cup tour, often gives the men’s circuit a bit of a challenge each time it stops at the venue. A women’s race had not been held at the venue since 1975. A women’s downhill, for that matter, had not been held at the venue since 1970. Coming into the weekend, the athletes were not sure what to expect of the terrain. But not Delago. She charged full speed ahead, without fear or hesitation, to cross the finish line and slide into second behind World Cup veteran, Ilka Stuhec. A joyous uproar quickly ensued, from both Delago and the crowd, chock full of friends and family from her childhood home.
“It was an incredible day full of emotions,” says Delago. “I was already very glad to be able to compete on the slopes where I grew up, no matter the outcome. I tried to enjoy every single moment– to live everything at my best. Just like when I was a child, I was at home, slept in my bed, had breakfast at my house, and then my dad took me to the gondola. I love this slope, and all the support I felt at the start gave me an incredible boost. Regarding what happened later, I’m still speechless; I felt like the main character of a movie– and that movie was my first World Cup podium.”
During the awards ceremony, her direct family swarmed the finish, bringing along a friendly face despite FIS objections. Her dog, Mika, a 2-year-old Samoyed, did not want to miss out on the celebration. Mika plays a big role in Delago’s life, and her social media. Much like Lindsey Vonn and her precious pup, Lucy, Delago thinks of Mika as a friend that can offer comfort and refuge amongst the crazy schedule and lifestyle that comes with being a professional alpine ski racer.
“I love him so much, he gives me so much peace and happiness. When I come home after a weekend of competing I love walking together. It’s something that relaxes me and helps me get my mind off racing,” says Delago. “I didn’t think I could become so attached to an animal.”
The reaction of the crowd and the overwhelming support of her family in the finish sent a clear message that Delago was destined to become a World Cup athlete. Not only did she spend her youth in skiing around the Dolomites and in the infamous Saslong course, her uncles Oskar and Karla both competed in the World Cup in the 1980s. In 2018, her younger sister Nadia made her World Cup debut.
“Having this kind of family next to me is certainly a huge support,” she says. “You always have dependable people around you who help you to achieve your best. Most importantly, these people are always there, even in the most difficult moments.”
Her jump into the spotlight came quickly, as many of her teammates fell victim to injury during the 2018/19 season. As a younger athlete, Delago struggled with the absence of her teammates. Delago has been fortunate to have made it through her career without any major injuries thus far.
“It definitely wasn’t easy starting the season with a lot of our teammates out of the game. We spend so much time together, and our companions become like a second family so it makes you feel sorry,” she says. “On the other hand, we have to keep fighting for ourselves and go on with the awareness that injuries are part of the game.”
After her podium in Val Gardena, Delago finished out the season with a seventh-place finish in the downhill at World Finals. Overall, the young Italian is quite happy with her performance and excited to do even better in the 2019/20 season, now that she has her mentors back by her side. The “Downhill Lion’s” are very close-knit, and Delago values her teammate’s mentorship as she looks to improve “technically, physically, tactically and mentally.”
“I was lucky to be able to grow up in a very strong team with many strong and experienced champions. They always helped me a lot and gave me valuable advice. They are always pulling for me, and training with them motivates me daily to improve,” says Delago. “[By] learning a lot from my teammates, who are all really strong and a great source of inspiration, I improved step by step.”
Coming into the 2019/20 season, keep an eye out for the upcoming Italian star, Nicol Delago, a name that’s bound to become as familiar as Sofia Goggia’s and Federica Brignone’s.