As she prepares for her second Olympic Winter Games, Charlie Guest looks back at her lowest ebb in 2018/19, and the changes that have led her to challenging for the top spots.
These are halcyon days for British Alpine skiing. This season alone has seen a string of ‘firsts’ (Billy Major and Charlie Raposo’s first career World Cup points, Reece Bell’s first World Cup appearance, and, of course, Britain’s first ever Alpine World Cup win courtesy of Dave Ryding), but it’s a ‘second’ which might prove one to watch, as Charlie Guest prepares for her second appearance at the Olympic Winter Games.
After all, it’s less than a year since Guest notched her first ever World Cup top-20 at the Are World Cup in March, with her 16th placed finish in the second of the weekend’s races coming hot on the heels of a 23rd place finish the previous day, itself a joint-best career finish with her result from a week earlier at the Jasna World Cup. Since the season resumption, she’s notched a further four top-20s including a 13th place at her most recent World Cup in Schladming, Austria, which saw her finish less than 3/10ths of a second outside the top-10, a result made even more noteworthy being the best recorded by a British female slalom skier since 1972. Guest is on a steep performance trajectory and appears to be peaking at just the right moment for Beijing.
It was not necessarily destined to be this way. In fact, Guest explains, she might not have been on the plane to Beijing at all. “I was going through a really difficult period towards the end of 2018 and into 2019”, she recalls. “I was pretty much having an identity crisis. I’d been in and out of injury cycles for about five years, and it was having a significant impact on my confidence and my mental health – probably far more than I was willing to admit.”
It was around that time that Guest began to think about what might take the place of professional skiing. “I applied for university because I was pretty convinced that the 2018/19 season would be my last.” Something about that action flipped a switch. “As soon as I’d taken that step back and thought ‘this is just ski racing; no matter what happens in the race today, I’ve still got a great life outside the sport and a future I’m excited about’, my results skyrocketed, and I began achieving things that had never been done before in British skiing.”
It hasn’t been without its challenges – “being a student athlete isn’t an easy task at all”, she explains – but the results are inarguable. “I became able to separate my self-worth from my results for the first time, which was so liberating. And it’s been useful studying psychology, just realising how ridiculously powerful the brain is in all aspects of our being and our performance.”
That shift in mindset is something that Guest believes has been behind her recent upsurge in performances. “I can now stand in the start gate and know that my turns are fast enough and that my skiing is 100% good enough to be in the top group in the world,” she says. “It’s been a really fun progression to have made, and I’m really enjoying racing at the moment. I think the real switch has been in my mentality and my approach.”
She also acknowledges the benefits of an injury free streak in her career, for almost the first time. “I’ve been majority injury free for the last three seasons now, and that plus the work that my Strength and Conditioning Coach, Nathan, and my Physio, Abi, have put in has meant I’ve been able to train on the mountain more consistently than ever.”
Guest’s journey to the top started out on the slopes of Scotland and looking back she sees the motivation that came from being part of a family of skiers. “I think being the eldest of four ski racers and making sure I was staying ahead of my younger siblings was such a motivator for me growing up. Perhaps we became annoyingly competitive, but Katie (Guest’s sister and a guide for the GB Para Alpine squad) does still harp on about the one time she beat me in a race up in Cairngorm!”.
All being well, Katie will herself be heading out to Beijing for the Paralympic Winter Games shortly after Guest departs China, and the familial pride is clear to see. “It’s really great seeing her back racing and enjoying all the elements that come with it”, Charlie explains.
It’s difficult, of course, to talk about British Alpine racing at the moment without mentioning ‘the D word’ – Dave. For Guest, Ryding’s presence in the British squad is nothing but positive. “Dave has always been the biggest role model for me growing up as a British slalom athlete”, she says. “I’ve been observing his career first-hand since I was about 17 and Dave was breaking into the top groups in the Europa Cup, and I could see the dedication, the detail and the graft that he put into everything – but he did it as one of the kindest people on the skiing tour, and he’s always been there to give advice.”
And now that she’s part of that same squad, and carving a path for herself? “I think Dave’s always been the one athlete I’ve been able to look at to prove that hard work does get you places. Now, I feel I’m following a similar pathway and can lean on his insight to help navigate my way through making steps into the top group in the World Cup. At the risk of sounding too much like a fangirl, he really has opened up a lot of opportunity for us as the next generation of British skiers.”
If anything, Guest is markedly similar to Ryding in her determination to wring every last ounce out of her undoubted talent on the slopes. Thankfully, given the benefits of a balanced mindset to her performances, she’s still able to ski for enjoyment as well as work. “You know, a ski holiday is actually on the list of things I am desperately wanting to do!”, she laughs. “I did have a brilliant Christmas Day freeskiing and stopping for hot chocolate in 3 Zinnen with my boyfriend. But me and my serviceman, Detra, make a point of going for an ‘appreciation’ run at the end of each training session. We get to train in some pretty cool locations, but the rush to get down and get lunch means it’s really hard to properly see the environments we’re in. So, I like to take that 15-20 minutes now to get on another lift or go explore a new piste.”
“After all,” she says, “we’re all doing this sport because we love skiing. It’s important to give ourselves that reminder.”
Charlie Guest Biography:
- Born: 1993
- Discipline: Alpine
- Squad: World Cup Squad
- Hometown: Perth, Scotland
Header Image: Charlie Guest at Schladming World Cup. Photo: GEPA pictures/ David Geieregger