ST. MORITZ, Switzerland – Finnish skier Erika Pykalainen was nervous before launching down the most challenging and preeminent course of her young ski racing career, but that didn’t stop the 15-year-old from hanging onto her first run lead and handily winning the 2017 Longines Future Ski Champions race.
The fourth annual Longines Future Ski Champions giant slalom race took place on the same course used for the 2017 World Alpine Ski Championships in St. Moritz, featuring one carefully selected skier under the age of 16 from the 13 countries that host the FIS Alpine World Cup. Cleo Braun of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail represented the U.S. and finished the day in sixth place. The event alternates genders every year and on Monday, the field of young female competitors delivered a level of competition well-suited to the high-profile venue.
“This was the biggest competition ever,” Pykalainen said in the finish stadium, where late afternoon shadows fell across the course in the second run, hardening the snow and adding an extra challenge as racers gasped for breath upon crossing the finish line.
“The conditions were [changing] between runs, but I liked this,” Pykalainen said. “Before the first run I was nervous, but I handled this good for the second run and had so good a feeling when I finished.”
Still, the teenager surprised herself when she crossed the finish line with a one-second lead on the rest of the field, winning with a two-run combined time of 1:34.89 seconds, ahead of second-place racer Aline Hopli of Switzerland, who finished in 1:35.89 seconds and France’s Clarisse Breche in third place with a time of 1:37.00 seconds.
For the victory, Pykalainen received a crystal globe, a gold medal, a Longines watch and a check for 20,000 U.S. dollars benefitting the Finnish Ski Association.
The young skier said she hopes the result was the first of many great things to come. Her dream is to follow in the footsteps of her racing hero – current World Cup overall leader Mikaela Shiffrin, who, as a Longines ambassador and former Future Ski Champion, presented the bibs prior to Monday’s race.
“It was the first time I got to talk to her, and it was amazing,” Pykalainen said.
Release and image courtesy of Longines