Swedish media hails golden Anja

It took four years for Anja Pärson to win an Olympic title - but even before winning the slalom gold medal the achievements of the powerhouse skier from Sweden have been cast in stone.

Pärson’s gold medal victory, her first Olympic crown after taking a silver and bronze in 2002 and two bronzes here, was Sweden’s first in alpine at the Games since Pernilla Wiberg won the combined gold at Lillehammer in 1994.

On Thursday Swedish media said she conquered her inner demons to win her longed-for first Olympic gold medal in the women’s slalom, heaping praise on the 24-year-old “blue-and-yellow King Kong”.

“Anja Pärson found the perfect harmony and her equipment, body and mind joined together to become a winning unit in the slalom event. That led to the longed-for Olympic gold and now Anja has won everything there is to win,” Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet wrote.

“Her worst opponent has been inside her own helmet. But yesterday she skied without demons, without any thoughts of Janica Kostelic or the Olympic gold. She stood alone in the starting gate. Empty. Whole,” daily Aftonbladet wrote.

The victory was marked by one of Pärson’s trademark belly dives on the snow, and followed by phone calls from the King of Sweden and Ingemar Stenmark, the Swedish ski legend who is a neighbour of the 24-year-old.

If the King calling you is something of a rarity, the other call seemed logical: both Stenmark and Pärson hail from Tärnaby, population approximately 1000, location 100km south of the Arctic Circle.

To the Swedes, and most ski racing enthusiasts, Stenmark is the most successful skier in history.

He won the World Cup slalom and giant slalom titles eight times each, two Olympic gold medals in 1980 – four years after winning Olympic bronze – and he dominated a record 86 World Cup races.

The feats of the ‘Silent Swede’ led to a mountain being named in his honour and Pärson, who throughout her life has been coached by her devoted father Anders, grew up skiing on the ‘Ingemarbacken’.

It speaks volumes that even before winning Olympic gold, she was already skiing on the ‘Anjabacken’.

The bigger picture might show that she has often played second fiddle to 24-year-old Croatian rival Janica Kostelic, who at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City dominated Pärson by winning three golds and one silver medal.

Kostelic added a fourth gold here, defending her combined crown and winning silver in the super-G.

In that time Pärson has responded by amassing 32 World Cup victories, two overall World Cup titles – arguably the biggest prize in alpine skiing – and adding to her maiden world championship crown in 2001 with another three titles.

Before the Games she also became one of the few skiers to win in all four World Cup disciplines – a feat that even Stenmark, for all his greatness, could not boast of.

Her concentration on the World Cup’s crystal globe nevertheless had negative side effects.

Pärson admitted it took her focus off setting out to enjoy winning races, an ailment she remedied shortly before arriving at the Olympics.

She began here with a bronze in the downhill, won by Austria’s Michaela Dorfmeister, and took another bronze in the combined behind Kostelic.

On Wednesday, Pärson’s past caught up with her in the best way possible.

“I just wanted to find that look in my eye again, to go down the racehill like I did when I was young,” she said.

With a golden glint in her eye, Pärson’s determination did the rest. And another gold medal, perhaps in the women’s giant slalom on Friday, is not out of the question.

But when it comes to being likened to Stenmark, the bubbly blond-haired Swede quickly becomes the youngster who skied so enthusiastically in and out of the slalom poles on the Ingemarbacken.

“It’s too big for me to tie Ingemar,” she said shortly after speaking to Stenmark by telephone.

“He’s my idol. I’m just a small girl from a small town in Sweden.

“Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe it’s true.”

But there may still be more to come.

“It’s probably not over yet. Her chances of winning the giant slalom on Friday just grew monstrously. Kostelic will have to do battle with a blue-and-yellow King Kong,” Svenska Dagbladet predicted.

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