Fresh from her career-best equalling result in the season opener at soelden, we sat down with Alex Tilley to talk about the year ahead. Then, injury struck.
Back in early November, Alex Tilley was coming off the back of a sensational opening World Cup of the season in Soelden, where she equalled her career best finish. Then, shortly afterwards, a training injury threatened to derail not just her season, but her Olympic campaign too. Now, though, she’s gearing up for her second shot at the world’s biggest winter sport competition.
Despite the joy of that result in Soelden, even then it was the performance rather than the position that gave the 28-year-old the most gratification.
“Soelden has always been a place that I believed was suited to me,” she explains, “but until this year, I’ve never been able to complete two clean runs there, and to ski the way I wanted to, with no fear of consequences.” So, putting those runs down, how did it feel? “It was so enjoyable! Equalling the PB result was great, of course, but honestly the best part was being able to ski the way I know I’ve been capable of for so long now.”
Coming into the season, Tilley made the decision to switch some thing up, most notably moving to a new ski company, in Austrian manufacturers Kästle, a decision notable enough to have featured in TV commentary during her storming second run in Soelden. And Tilley is seeing the benefits already. “I really feel a lot of security and support with Kästle. I think that really helped me to push hard in the second run.”
Pushing hard is something that comes naturally to Tilley now, as one of the country’s most experienced Alpine racers. But it wasn’t always the case, for an athlete who calls herself “a very different skier, and a very different person to who I was at my first World Cup start.”
That start, back in 2013, came when she was just 19 years old. “I only started my first World Cup for the experience,” she recalls, “but I absolutely loved it. I was nowhere near ready to compete well! But it really opened my eyes to where I wanted to be in my career as a ski racer – the World Cups are still to this day my favourite experiences of the season.”
And not just where she wanted to be, but how she intended to get there too. “I had a very ‘all or nothing’ approach when I was younger, and it led to an awful lot of DNFs but also some very fast races. Now I think I’ve learned to control that a little more become much more process focused than I was and brought more consistency to my training and racing.”
It’s interesting, hearing Tilley describe her career, how much modesty there is in the way she reflects on her successes. This is, after all, a woman who has twice had top-30 end-of-season positions on the World Cup circuit in Giant Slalom, and who represented Team GB at the PyeongChang Games in 2018. “I’m still very much a work in progress”, she says, “and it’s something I have to remind myself of often.”
A work in progress, then, but one will become a two-time Olympian in the coming days. Are there lessons she’ll take from her experiences in PyeongChang as the Games draw nearer? “I really felt it’s not as glamorous as it looks on TV! There’s a lot of added stress with all the security, and the designated clothing and everything. Honestly, I found it all a bit overwhelming the first time around.”
In talking about the Games experience, Tilley taps into something that perhaps goes uncommented so much of the time, in the very specific pressures created in the Olympic environment. “I feel much better prepared for my second Games, both in terms of what to expect, and how not to get caught up in the distractions. I’ll be there to ski my best, to represent Team GB the best I can, and to focus all my energy on doing that.”
This year, though, there’s an additional consideration that nobody involved can afford to ignore. “Obviously covid-19 will be a big factor this year,” she says, “but one of the beauties of Alpine skiing is being able to be out in the mountains, with the fresh air and all the freedom. We’re really lucky in that sense.”
Despite all those considerations, Tilley remains excited about what’s to come. “I think almost every athlete dreams of competing at the Olympic Games, and I was no different. This summer, I found it so exciting watching the Team GB athletes out in Tokyo. Seeing their success coming off the back of a really difficult year; it definitely gives you a sense of pride in what Team GB is all about.”
She might, of course, not have been out in Beijing at all. After all of the promise of her season opener (and this interview was initially conducted in the immediate aftermath of her race in Soelden), Tilley suffered a training crash that resulted in a fractured fibula. The clock was ticking down to Beijing, but Tilley’s remarkable powers of recovery had her back on the World Cup circuit by late January, less than three months later.
Does she, then, have any specific goals? Not in the way those outside of the sport might expect. “I try not to set goals with numbers and expectations of myself. I feel it’s a trap I’ve fallen into in the past that added a great deal of stress in past years”, she says. “My goal is just to ski my best every day. The results will take care of themselves.”
If the start to the season is anything to go by, she’s right. For a fit again Alex Tilley, the results really will take care of themselves, both here in Beijing and in the seasons to come.
Alex Tilley Biography:
- Born: 1993
- Discipline: Alpine
- Squad: World Cup Squad
- Hometown: Torphins, Scotland
Header Image: Alex Tilley at World Cup Soelden, 2021. Photo: GEPA pictures/ Thomas Bachun