Tessa Worley: French Army sergeant leads World Cup assault

Story highlights

  • Tessa Worley leads the 2017 giant slalom standings
  • When not skiing, she is a sergeant in the French Army

(CNN)If skier Tessa Worley isn't speeding down the world's most famous mountains, then you might find her hanging out with the French Special Forces.

While most of her peers spend skiing's World Cup off-season recovering from the rigors of a grueling five-month campaign, Worley leads a double life.
On one hand, she is the giant slalom World Cup leader locked in a battle with US star Mikaela Shiffrin.
    Away from the slopes, she is a sergeant in the French Army.


    Although not on active duty, Worley says her eight years in the army have helped define her.
    "I'm not a fighter," the 27-year-old says. "I don't think I'll go off to fight. I'm at the end of the chain for that but for sure I'm still very much a part of the military."
    In addition to her government funding, the French military offers financial support to elite skiers in exchange for service.
    "We have the chance in France when you get to a certain level in skiing that you can get recruited by the Army," Worley tells CNN on the eve of the next World Cup event in Maribor, Slovenia on Saturday.
    "We have a specialist ski team. In many ways, it's mostly like a sponsor but it's more than that in that there's the security of having military backup. Also, you can get to learn things and do some fun stuff like with the commandos."

    'No sleep'

    Worley has tackled demanding assault courses and endured a long run with the Special Forces in which she and her colleagues had limited access to sleep and food.
    For many, it would be torture. But she reveled in it.
    "It's really interesting to see how they do stuff," Worley explains.
    "It's really impressive. We have a high level of training as athletes and we can follow them for a time but it's amazing what they can do with little or no sleep or food. As skiers, we're used to lots of that.
    "We did this race by night with them on foot and it was pretty difficult. But theirs is a curious life -- I'm interested in it. My role in the military is to do anything I can to help with the image and the communication side of things."
    If the results of the 2016-17 season are anything to go by, military life suits her.
    Twice she has stood on top of the podium and she hasn't been out of the top two in the giant slalom since the season opener in Solden.
    Were it not for the relentless Shiffrin, Worley would boast a 100% record over the last four races.

    Risk v reward

    The daughter of an Australian, Steve, and French mother, Madeleine, her background until the age of seven was double winters spent skiing in both New Zealand and France.
    Before long, Worley was climbing up the ranks in her native France but her career stalled when she damaged anterior cruciate knee ligaments in a crash in 2013.
    Mikaela Shiffrin: Women will not turn to Trump
    Mikaela Shiffrin: Women will not turn to Trump


      Mikaela Shiffrin: Women will not turn to Trump


    Mikaela Shiffrin: Women will not turn to Trump 00:53
    She was crowned world giant slalom champion that year but getting back to that sort of form has been a slow process.
    "It's a pretty normal injury for a skier with six or seven months out," she reflects. "But it's about confidence, that's one of the most important parts of racing, as it allows you to push."
    Her confidence now appears restored, something she credits to a successful bank of training. But she insists the best is yet to come.
    "This season's been good for me," she adds. "I've been mostly pleased with how I've been able to attack but I need to get better on my first runs, and I'm still looking for that tiny little plus that I want in races to get better.
    "It's about the risk I take and the attacking I can do. I know I can push harder but it's difficult to get that right in races. You need to push but not too much."
    Even the best can force it -- Olympic and world champion Shiffrin failed to finish a slalom for the first time in four years when she skied out of her first run at the start of this week in Zagreb, Croatia.
    Worley knows Shiffrin is likely to be a season-long rival in giant slalom -- a discipline in which the flagged gates are spaced at a greater distance than on slalom courses -- but she insists the overall crown wasn't her ambition at the start of the campaign.
    "The season is too long to have ambitions like that from the start," Worley says. "And I don't have a list of things I want to achieve, as a list ends.
    "I don't want this to end. We'll see what happens and where it goes."