skiing

“I often feel pretty scared”

Carolina Ruiz's World Cup triumph in Méribel was a first for Spain

Carolina Ruiz after her victory in Méribel.
Carolina Ruiz after her victory in Méribel.ROBERT PRATTA / REUTERS

Last Saturday, Carolina Ruiz became the first Spaniard to win the downhill in a World Cup skiing race, when she triumphed in Méribel, in the French Alps. The next day the Chilean-born skier, who has lived in Granada since she was a little girl, spoke to EL PAÍS about her victory. This weekend, Ruiz could only manage 22nd in her next World Cup outing in Garmisch.

Question. What does it feel like when you're traveling at speeds greater than 100km/h?

Answer. It is difficult sometimes. Those of us who devote ourselves to this sport have a bit of madness in them. Sometimes I ask myself, Why do I do this? What have I got myself into? It often makes you feel a lot of respect, even fear. We're aware of what it is like to descend at those speeds. The feeling you get later is magnificent. It has something that gets its hooks into you, like other extreme sports. There are times when you enjoy yourself. At other times... you'd prefer to be somewhere else. At the speed at which we go down the slopes, the forces we experience on the turns are huge. If you're badly positioned, you can have a fall. The line of the curves is similar to Formula 1.

Q. "Be yourself" is one of your favorite sayings. What are you like?

A. I'm quite simple, in the sense that people who meet me must not think that I'm a particularly impressive person. I love the time that I spend with my friends and my family. I'm a hard worker, quite stubborn.... When I get an idea in my head I fight for it. I'm not very complicated.

Q. No Spaniard has ever achieved what you have. Do you feel like a pioneer?

A. On the one hand, yes. I began the practice of working on my speed. I didn't have a person in front guiding me, nor any prepared framework. In that sense, I guess I feel a bit of a pioneer. It's not easy. Having someone in front of you, an example who you can learn from, who does the work for you... that is an advantage.

Q. What sets apart the best skiers?

The big difference among the best skiers is their mental attitude"

A. Among the 30 best skiers in the world, the biggest difference is their mental attitude. Confidence. The desire to risk more or less. It's clear that some technical or physical things are very important... But at this level, psychology also has a lot of influence.

Q. Does that explain why 13 years have passed between your first podium and this one?

A. Yes. I achieved that result when I was very young [at the age of 18, when she came second] without really knowing how I had done it. After that, I didn't know how to manage the next results. Finishing 15th wasn't enough. At the mental level it was the most difficult thing. I fell back further and further. I almost ended up not trusting my abilities. It was a moment I didn't know how to manage.

Q. Did you think about giving up?

A. Yes. Oh, yes. A couple of years ago I was at the point of giving it all up completely. I wasn't getting bad results - in fact I was always fighting. But after so many years of work and sacrifice, of knowing that I had the potential to do it a little better and not achieving it... then I said to myself, it's not worth the effort any more. I analyzed if I wanted to go on like this or not, and that was not for the first time. The victory has been the reward for all these thousands of years of work, but behind it there have been some very tough moments.

Q. You train with the French. What does France give you that Spain didn't?

A. It gives me a team structure. The Spanish federation gives me everything I need, but you need the same structure for one racer as you do for 10, with all the cost that entails. Three coaches, plus a doctor, plus physio, for one person... that would be impossible. That's why all the small teams join together with the big ones, because if not, the quality of the work isn't so good. Even with big teams like the French, we try to join with another big team. If you want to be safe on the slope and to do things well, you need a lot of people.