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Drawing inspiration from two legendary skiers, Vreni Schneider and Ingemar Stenmark, arguably the greatest all-time Alpine athletes, the Swede, who like Stenmark hails from Tarnaby, has climbed the same dizzy heights as her heroes with victory in all major competitions at all levels. Relying on her father, Anders, himself once amongst Sweden's best skiers, to coach her in the formative years, the 27-year-old also turns to Sweden's other Alpine team coaches throughout the season to keep her technique in check so that the potential she demonstrated as a junior will continue to shine through. Paerson amazes with her smooth style despite her muscular build, which provides the power to guide the skis.
Paerson demonstrated her lucidity on the slopes from an early age marking her out as one who was destined to scale the heights of the sport thanks to her power of descent.
She made her debut in the World Cup on the 15th of March, 1997 in her only appearance of the tour that season, finishing 25th in the giant slalom.
At the tender age of 17, Anja performed well at the Junior World Championships in 1998 to win a gold medal in the giant slalom, a feat she was to repeat in both the 1999 and 2000 editions, and a bronze at the slalom. However, that third place finish in what she regards as her favourite discipline pushed her on to claim gold in the slalom in 1999 and 2000, where she also added bronze in the Super G.
However, it was still as a 17-year-old in December 1998 that Paerson hit the headlines on the senior tour, becoming the fifth Swedish woman to win a World Cup slalom, at Mammoth Mountain in the United States. In blustery conditions on the slalom slopes at the Californian resort, the teenager had drawn bid #36 but still managed to upset all the established favourites despite a rather slow first run, only 15th fastest. However, nobody could come close to the pace she set in the second run to deny her victory.
Strangely, Anja failed to appreciate her first taste of success amongst Alpine skiing's top stars as the one month she had spent away from her home town near the Arctic circle with its close knit population and family had brought on an intense bout of homesickness, made worse by her inability to strike up friendships with her fellow competitors. Adding to her sense of loneliness was the absurd situation that had arisen back at her family home where the telephone was inundated with calls from well wishers, which tied up the line, denying Anja the chance to speak to her parents until the following day.
The same season Paerson's performances continued to send signals around the circuit that a new generation of female skiers was beginning to take hold, although she failed to add to that solitary victory. A second place at St. Anton was sandwiched between two further podium finishes, on the lowest step however, at Veysonnaz and Are, the town south of Tarnaby that would figure prominently in her future triumphs.
After a twelfth place finish overall in her first full World Cup season on the back of a third place in the slalom, the following year she continued to mature and post important finishes in the technical disciplines without adding to the Mammoth Mountain first place, although she came close with a runners-up spot in the Finals in Bormio in March 2000. Again she settled for a third place in the slalom, climbing up the overall standings to eighth.
Following the 1999 World Championships in Vail where Paerson failed to finish in her two technical events, the second attempt at the World Championships at St. Anton in 2001 proved to be an entirely different affair, storming to the head of the pack in the slalom to clinch the gold medal and once again scaling the podium in the giant slalom with a bronze, Sweden's only medals. Such was the importance of the victory that Paerson still regards them as the most fundamental of her career.
After a two season absence, Paerson skied herself back to victory in the World Cup in early December of 2001 at Sestriere, her favourite slope, in the slalom, a discipline she would dominate that year, winning a total of four races (out of the first five) in eight podium finishes. The reason she finished off the podium in the remaining races was simply because she failed to finish the race, but could not improve on her third place finish come the end of season 2002. Climbing up to fifth place in the overall standings was another strong signal from the skier who was now considering pushing her talents further by competing in the speed events, having competed in the Super G in Val d'Isere toward the end of 2001. She would later set herself the goal of participating in all four events in the Olympic Games in Turin.
However, it was still in her preferred technical races that she climbed on the podium in the Winter Olympic Games in March 2002. On the slopes of Utah in the Salt Lake City Games she played second best to an outstanding display by Janic Kostelic, which intensified a passionate rivalry between the two skiers who were set to dominate female Alpine skiing for the upcoming seasons. The Swede returned home with a silver medal from the slalom and bronze from the giant slalom around her neck.
The 2003 season saw her further experiment in the Super G, but once again relied on her tried and tested specialities to clinch her first crystal globe. After a slow start to the season, Anja won eight podium finishes in the giant slalom, securing the crown with five successive wins, which began in January in Are and finished in the same town two months later. A runners-up place in the slalom pushed her to a best ever overall placing of third.
The best form of her short career coincided with Janica Kostelic's decision to skip the 2004 season after knee surgery and Anja took full advantage of the absence of the Croat champion to dominate the year's skiing. Achieving her 11th win in the last race of the season in the Finals at Sestriere was a fitting reward for the newly crowned World Cup winner, who added the crystal globe in the slalom and giant slalom to the overall prize.
A sixth place in the slalom on the penultimate day of the Finals was enough to secure the overall World Cup title, when even a top 13 finish would have sufficed. Victory in the giant slalom the following day was nothing short of a victory parade after she had set the pace in opening seven races where she recorded four wins, two second places and a fourth. Anja also began to venture on the slopes of the downhill in the main competition after testing the snow the previous year in the Europa Cup.
Entering the 2005 season as defending champion had placed an enormous pressure on Anja's shoulders, which was amplified by the return to form of Kostelic, her Croatian rival having rediscovered her winning talent after her lengthy lay-off.
Three podium placements in the opening three slalom and giant slalom races, however, indicated that Paerson was bearing up well. She then set a precedent which was to prove decisive over the length of the season, picking up crucial points in the speed events. The season was interrupted in early February 2005 for the World Championships with Paerson apparently holding a comfortable lead over the Croat superstar.
Kostelic however took confidence from her domination in the Bormio World Championships on the back of her triple gold medal display, while the Swede was not to be outclassed as she won two golds and a silver. A giant slalom win was backed up by a surprise in the Super G, and rounded off with second place in the combined. All five medals on offer were won by the two rivals.
Sweden's promise come reality won a super giant slalom on the 25th of February to inaugurate the course for the following year's Turin Olympics, her first victory in a speed event at the World Cup level, which became two the next day in the downhill to become only the second female skier to win a race in all four disciplines in the same season. However, Kostelic kept up the heat with two wins of her own in Italy.
So the season passed to the Finals in Lenzerheide where only the top 15 skiers were to participate. The intense duel was beginning to show but another immense performance in the Super G to claim third place seemed to be enough to finally see off Kostelic, but the Croat once again stormed back with a second place in the penultimate race.
Going in to the final day, Paerson held a slender 35 point lead over Kostelic. The Swede could do no better than 16th place, while the Croat finished 7th before the first run leader Maria Rienda set off for her second run. It was to be the Spanish skier was who was to decide who would be crowned the Queen of the World Cup when she held onto her lead to win the race and push all the competitors down a place. The drop-off in points favoured Paerson who won back-to-back crystal globes by just three points, the lowest ever winning margin in the competition.
The result was reversed the following season in 2006 with Paerson settling for a runners-up place overall, boosted by a crystal globe in the giant slalom and once again winning in each discipline as both athletes kept up their form all the way to the finals in Are.
The season was forced into another mid-season break, this time for the Turin Olympics and Paerson had fulfilled her wish of being capable of racing for medals in all the events. A bronze medal in the downhill in the opening women's Alpine event was swiftly repeated in the combined. However, Paerson excelled in the discipline she still regards as her favourite with her first Olympic gold, in the slalom.
In 2007, the World Championships were held in Are, the venue just twenty kilometres south of Paerson's home town. A difficult season hampered by injury, Anja's knees were beginning to creak under the years of skiing, was not the best preparation for the local girl who showed her true grit and will to win to find the form that had eluded her all year to make history as the only skier, men included, to win world championships in each of Alpine skiing's five disciplines, an accomplishment that took her only six years. Anja won three golds, adding the downhill and the super-combined to her previous impressive list of titles and rounded off an outstanding achievement with a silver in the team event and bronze in the slalom.
A below par season in 2008 for Paerson who self admittedly suffered motivational problems, partly down to her travelling on average 200 days per year, but still managed three victories and eight podiums yet failed to make any impact on the overall standings or come close to claiming one of the individual crystal globes in World Cup.
Anja rested thoroughly over the summer, taking advantage of the weather in her adopted city of Monaco to recharge her batteries as she set her sights on defending her world championship crowns in Val d'Isere although her main aim was to just take it one event at a time and rediscover a sense of fun in what she does.
The 2009 season, though, was not too different from 2008. The motivation that had been lacking in the previous winter seemed not to have returned and although she nothched up a couple of victories, in the supercombined of St. Moritz and the downhill of Zauchensee, she never really gave the impression that she could pull out the stops when needed. She did finish third in the overall standings but was never really in the race to actually win the title and test Lindsey Vonn, the eventual winner, to the bitter end. She also failed to reproduce the incredible medal winning blitz of Are in the World Championships of Val d'Isère in February. Ninth in the slalom proved to be her best result.
Who knows that after one more exceptional season she may even have a mountain named after her in her native Lapland just as her hero Stenmark has, in the rural land where skiing is still regarded as an essential means of transport rather than only a sport.