By Michael MastarciyanIf Annie Winquist were to walk into a convenience store to purchase a lottery ticket – you know, the type that involves picking your own numbers - there’s a very good chance she’d tick off the number 45 box.
Why the number 45 box? What’s the significance of “45” you may be asking yourselves?
Because 45 is a winning number for Winquist that’s why.
On a cold, bright, sunny day last March in Roccaraso, Italy at the FIS World Junior Ski Championships, Winquist was in the athlete corral next to the top of the super-G start house watching her competitors rip down the perfectly groomed race course one by one.
After the 44th racer went down the track, Winquist, excited and ready to throw down a good run, but not overly confident about her upcoming result, burst out of the gate wearing the number 45 bib and hurtled her body down the mountain.
The “not overly confident” part above, as most of you who follow ski racing know, comes from the reality that skiers who start in the 45th spot rarely, if ever, win alpine ski races during perfect weather condition days, on tracks that don’t deteriorate.
Not on this day though.
On this day – number 45 was the winning number - and luck had nothing to do with it!
After crossing the finish line, soundtracked by a chorus of ear-shattering cheers, Annie Winquist looked up and saw number one next to her name on the leader board and realized she’d won gold.
Was it a fluke? A lucky, ski racing one off?
Two days later, Winquist tore it up again and won silver in combined at those very same Junior Worlds.
Ms. Winquist took a break from her busy off-season training to schedule recently to answer a few questions about her ski racing career and the number 45….
MM: Okay Annie, the truth, were you surprised, even shocked when you saw yourself on the top of the super-G leader board at Junior Worlds last March in Italy?
AW: I had a clean run and it felt good, but when I came into the finish and realized that I was leading I was really shocked!
MM: If you were betting on a racer to win that day, would you have picked racer Number 45?
AW: I had never dreamed of winning from bib number 45, but I knew I could do well if I had a clean run. I hadn’t raced any SG races down in Europe until that race so I didn’t really know what to expect either. On the other hand, starting with bib 45 I didn’t have a lot of pressure on me and didn’t think a lot about the result, so I could just concentrate on the skiing and give full gas.
MM: Walk us through the events leading up to your run, what was going through your mind before the race?
AW: I had a lot of time from the inspection till I started so I had time to rest and watch some of the first racers coming down. At the start I felt relaxed since I didn’t have any pressure on me.
MM: Describe the run, what was it like?
AW: My run felt very good, I had a nice line through the hard and steep part of the course so I was able to carry a lot of speed into the flat part of the course.
MM: An amazing finish like that must do a lot for your confidence and your mental attitude toward racing in general – would you agree?
AW: Yes it was a real boost for my confidence! When I was younger, SG and DH were my best events, but in the last few years I haven’t done a lot of speed races so it was really great to see that I still have a lot of speed in me! I raced mostly Europa Cup races last season, which was pretty tough so it felt great to get a result like that at the end of the season, and it was definitely good for my confidence, and also motivation for keeping up the hard work!
MM: You bumped Joana Haehlen down to second and Ragnhild Mowinckel into third, but I’m told they are good friends of yours. How did they react to your amazing run?
AW: They were really happy for me, I think they thought it was fun to see that it’s not impossible to have a good race from a high bib number if you’re just going for it!
MM: Did you celebrate afterward? Did you have friends or family watching in the stands?
AW: I enjoyed some victory cake with the rest of the team. My mom and dad were there to watch me, and they were even more shocked by my result than I was! They were celebrating all the good Norwegian results with some of the other parents who were there.
MM: What did your coaches do after the victory?
AW: They were super happy and some of them were even crying!
MM: You won silver in combined two days later, how was that?
AW: It felt great, but the SG gold was definitely the biggest moment for me!
MM: You had a lot of success at Norway’s National and Junior National Championships too, with silvers in downhill and super combined at Nationals, and golds in downhill, super-G and super combined at Juniors - will that be a confidence builder going into the future?
AW: Yes that was a confidence builder! It was good to see that I could be fast in the speed disciplines and that it was not just a one-time thing.
MM: Do you consider yourself a speed specialist or more of an all-rounder?
AW: I consider myself an all-rounder, I think it is fun to ski everything and have a lot of variation. It’s good to ski everything because I think that the speed events can help me in GS and SL and reverse.
MM: What’s the most important thing you learned last season?
AW: I was starting with a lot of high bibs last season in the Europa Cup races and also at Junior Worlds, so I learned that it’s not impossible to do well if you just believe in yourself and give full gas.
MM: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to younger racers?
AW: Be focused in everything you do, and work hard and the results will come. Just don’t forget to have fun, that’s the most important thing!
MM: What’s your race schedule going to look like this upcoming season? Europa Cups mostly? Some World Cup races maybe?
AW: I will race mostly Europa Cup to try and get some better starting positions, and if I do well I will hopefully get to race a couple of World Cups.
MM: Did you have any ski racing idols when you were younger?
MM: Do you believe in lucky numbers? Do you think the number 45 will be a lucky number for you in the future?
AW: No I don’t really believe in lucky numbers, I think I can do well with any number if I’m having a good day!
MM: Would you play the number 45 if you bought a lotto ticket?
AW: Yes maybe I would do that just for fun!
MM: Some athletes are very superstitious – are you superstitious? Do you have any rituals you follow before, during or after competitions?
AW: I’m not superstitious at all actually, and I don’t have any special rituals on race days. I like to listen to music to get relaxed.
MM: We know you are pretty competent when you’re on skis – do you have any other talents you’d like to tell us about?
AW: I have always played a lot of soccer since I was young. I was never a “girly girl” so I have always liked to hang out with my older brother and his friends. When we were young, me, my brother and my dad had a daily hour of play-fighting, and were always doing a lot of fun stuff together so maybe that’s one of the reasons why I became so competitive. I hate to lose in every way, so they always made me fight hard to win.
MM: What would you do as a career if you weren’t an alpine ski racer?
AW: I love to travel so I would probably do that. I really like animals so I think I would work with helping animals.
MM: Have you taken any time off for a holiday this off-season?
AW: In between dryland camps in Oslo, I went to Spain to get some time off and to reload my batteries. I also got to hang out with my friends and went on some trips with them.
MM: How’s training coming along so far?
AW: I have been training a lot of dryland in Oslo with my team which has been good! Then we returned on skis in Zermatt and Saas Fee and it felt really great to be back on snow!
MM: Your teammate Rag-Mow has a great nickname – do you have a cool nickname too?
AW: I don’t – my name is pretty cool as it is!
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