CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy — An icy cold shower first thing in the morning. A slap to her chest, a punch to the head and a quick spit of saliva in the start gate.

Then, all or nothing.

Sofia Goggia’s pre-race ritual is designed to raise her alertness level to the point where she’s prepared to risk her well-being on every turn of a downhill course — something that will be on display this month at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The daring style propelled the Italian skier to a team-record 13 podium finishes last season. It also cost her three serious knee injuries earlier in her career.

“That’s why I like her. She’s always exciting to watch,” said Lindsey Vonn, noting that she had a similar attitude on the mountain. “You got to man up and push the limits and that’s what she does every time. I have a great deal of respect for that.”

Goggia, it seems, goes all out in everything she does.

Whether that means writing a 20-page blog post on the ups and downs of her career — replete with references in Latin; traveling from one race in the Alps to another — “She drives like she skis,” Gianluca Rulfi, her coach, said after one recent hair-raising experience in the passenger seat of Goggia’s car; or even the way she presented herself to Vonn when the pair met for the first time a few years ago.

“She started bowing down to me. I’m like, ‘What the hell are you doing? Get up.’ She said she has a lot of respect for me and she has been hurt many times and that I was a big inspiration to her,” Vonn said. “Ever since then we’ve been really good friends.”

So friendly that Goggia visited Vonn at her home in Colorado in November and bonded over their love of dogs.

The friendship has taken on new meaning over the last year with Goggia developing into Vonn’s biggest challenger for downhill and super-G gold in Pyeongchang.

At last season’s test event on the Olympic course in South Korea, Goggia won both the downhill and super-G and Vonn finished second in both races, finishing a minuscule 0.07 and 0.04 seconds behind, respectively.

“If it doesn’t happen again it will only mean I won in the wrong year,” Goggia said. “Really though, the only thing I’m curious about is how I’ll react when I’m in the starting gate at my first Olympics. What will I be thinking about and how will my legs feel?”

Goggia can comfort herself with the knowledge that she has beaten the best in Jeongseon before.

“It helps in terms of confidence because it means she likes the course,” Italy speed coach Giovanni Feltrin said. “Skiers fall in love with courses the same way Formula One drivers do with auto racing circuits.”

Goggia is also a contender in the first women’s event on the Pyeongchang calendar, the giant slalom on Feb. 12.

She headlines a deep Italian squad that is expected to end a run of three straight Olympics without a single medal won by the women’s team.

Nicknamed the “Valanga Azzurra” — or Azzurra avalanche, after the national team’s blue or azure colors — the squad features another multi-medal threat in Federica Brignone, who has seven World Cup victories to Goggia’s four.

The extreme amount of pressure that Brignone puts on herself and internalizes contrasts greatly with Goggia’s more outgoing approach.

“They’re two different personalities who work together without any problems. So they help each other in training but it ends there,” former Italy speed coach Alberto Ghezze said. “They respect each other. They’re not friends, though.”

Goggia’s exuberance was on full display when she jumped into a whirlpool bath fully clothed, shoes and all, after claiming two podiums in Val d’Isere, France, last season. It was a gesture that brought back memories of the way Italian great Alberto Tomba used to celebrate.

“She’s volcanic in everything she does,” Feltrin said. “She’s got a ton of energy. You see it in how she skis, how she celebrates, how she carries herself. She’s definitely a unique individual.

“The toughest thing for her is channeling all of that energy in the right direction,” Feltrin added. “If she’s able to do that, she can show off all of her talent.”


More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org


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