Lara Gut: Family affair pushes Swiss skier to new heights

Story highlights

  • World Cup overall winner is coached by her father
  • Says mom is "super power" behind success
  • Younger brother Ian also skis for Switzerland
  • She left school at 15 to pursue skiing dream

(CNN)Life is a big adventure for Lara Gut and her family -- and this year's journey to the top of the ski rankings owes much to a random trip across the world more than a decade ago.

The Guts were on holiday in the south of France when her father announced without warning that they would be heading to Argentina the next day.
    "I think he had a connection in Argentina he spoke to and just said 'let's go' -- and off we went for a month's skiing in Bariloche," recalls Gut, now 24.
    This sense of adventure -- sparked by memorable vacations across Europe as her parents signed off their teaching jobs for the summer -- has shaped the skier she is today.
    Relatively unheralded outside Alpine circles prior to this season, for much of 2016 Gut's achievements have got somewhat lost amid the Lindsey Vonn adulation.
    But with the American superstar having announced her withdrawal from the final events of this season due to injury, while heading the overall standings, Gut has taken advantage and effectively sealed the overall crown with a third place in the alpine combined in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, Sunday.
    Gut leads with 1,362 points to Vonn's 1,235, with Germany's Viktoria Rebensburg 355 points behind ahead of this week's World Cup finals in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
    There are four races of the season left in finals week -- with 100 points available for the winner of each -- but Rebensburg does not ski slalom. Gut acknowledges the title is "99.9%" hers.

    Keeping it in the family

    It is a lofty position she fully credits to a family affair.
    Gut was given a pair of skis by her aunt on her first birthday, while her father Pauli has coached her from day one and still does on the World Cup circuit.
    Younger brother Ian is on the Swiss junior team, while mother Gabriella is the unsung hero, according to her daughter.
    "My mom is the superstar of the team, she's the super mom, the superpower," explains Gut, who boasts four career world championship medals and an Olympic bronze from the last Games in 2014, who was speaking to CNN earlier in the season.
    Her mother is in charge of organizing the trips, of dealing with sponsors and of effectively being the lynch pin of an impressively high-achieving family.
    This form of nepotism isn't common on the World Cup circuit, but Gut explains: "This for us is normal family life. As teachers, they would pack up for the summer and we would travel around Europe.
    "My Dad was kind of an artist and studied art in Milan so he would teach so much about that and other things.
    "So we've always loved to travel. As a result I still love it and after two days at home life gets boring and I want to go again."

    Teenage troubles

    Skiing was just one of the many things they tried and loved as a family, and Gut joined the professional ranks as a budding 16-year-old.
    Something of a child prodigy, she stunned her rivals with a podium at the St. Moritz downhill in her debut season and won her first World Cup race while still a teen, but struggled with many of the other facets that went with alpine skiing -- especially growing up in front of the cameras.
    "I couldn't understand why I couldn't just keep on going skiing," she recalls, "and why I had to keep going to interviews and sponsor events. I wanted to get my freedom back and I don't think I was ready.
    "Everyone seemed to have an opinion on me from one day to the next. I couldn't then understand why people were so hard on me when they didn't even know me. Why not talk to me rather than write something bad? So I reacted badly and didn't want to talk anymore.
    "But it helped that some of the older skiers had had the same experience, and it helped to have people like that to talk with."
    Eight years on, and helped by having her father by her side particularly in those formative teenage years, Gut is far more mature and aware of the obligations required as an alpine skier.
    The suggestion she might shun an interview is unthinkable; an engaging interviewee with a superb grasp of English, she also speaks Italian, French, German and Spanish.
    There have been setbacks along the way, including a nasty training crash sustained in 2009 which forced her to miss the 2010 Olympics.

    Still learning

    Though Gut left school at the age of 15 to pursue her sporting ambitions, she is a keen student and continued to study on her own.
    She has plans for further education -- possibly in marketing and communications, slightly ironic considering her earlier problems in the professional ranks.
    Her goal, although she does not like to fully admit it, is to win the overall title. But she has been in a strong position before -- notably two years ago -- only to end up in third.
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    "Two years ago I had another good start but fell away," she says. "I learned a lot, especially that you can't win until March. So I'm not getting carried away."
    She knows just one crash lies between her and joining Vonn on the sidelines.
    The crashes don't get any easier to bear for her family.
    "I don't think you get used to the risks and I'm still very nervous watching my brother. If I crash, I try to give the thumbs up that I'm okay and my dad calls my mom at home as soon as he can."
    Vonn's leg injury, suffered in a crash in Andorra last month, has denied Gut's home fans the chance of a spectacular duel for the title this week.
    The Swiss describes World Cup record-holder Vonn "as a great sportsperson and great for the sport" but, all season, has tried to avoid getting caught up verbally in their Alpine battle.
    "I just want to ski," she says. "I feel free when I ski and it's important to feel happy at the end of the day. I'm just trying to get better every day and this season everything just seems to feel better."
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