Ali Nullmeyer might not be a “relatively unknown Canadian” alpine skier for too much longer.
The 23-year-old from Toronto finished a career-best fifth in a World Cup slalom race in Zagreb, Croatia, on Tuesday, a result that prompted a European wire service reporter to tag her with the less than flattering label.
In fact, Nullmeyer’s second run time of 1:00.68 was the fastest in a field that had been pared to 22 women from the first run start list of 60. Trouble was, Nullmeyer had been 17th after the first run and simply had too much ground to make up on eventual podium finishers Petra Vlhova of Slovakia, Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States and Katharina Liensberger of Austria. Nullmeyer wound up .47 seconds away from a World Cup bronze medal.
“We just got back to the hotel about 30 minutes ago so it’s still kind of sinking in, but yeah, super excited,” she said in a phone interview with Postmedia.
“I think I made a couple mistakes in the first run that definitely cost me some time so I was a little further back than I hoped. Going into second run I had nothing to lose so I kind of just went for it and that really helped me in the end.”
She led a Canadian contingent that included Roni Remme of Collingwood, Ont., in 17th and Amelia Smart of Inveremere, B.C., in 20th. Erin Mielzynski of Collingwood, Ont., was eighth after the first run but did not finish the second, while Laurence St-Germain of St. Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., did not finish the first.
Nullmeyer has been on the World Cup circuit since 2019 and her previous best finish was a 12th in slalom at Are, Sweden, last March. Jumping into the top five and hanging with perennial podium favourites Vlhova and Shiffrin is a great boost for her confidence.
“I definitely feel like I have the capability to be there and to have this result to kind of solidify that for me is really awesome. So it’s definitely a really good thing,” Nullmeyer said.
“I’ve been having a tough little bit in terms of the skiing has been there but not the result, so to have a solid result in front of me feels really good. I’m definitely going to use that to keep motivating me, keep trying hard in training. My teammates are all right up there too, just pushing each other. So this is a big confidence boost and I’m excited to take it into the next couple of races.”
She will be able to race with less weight on her young shoulders as well, since she said this result has solidified her spot on the Canadian team for the Beijing Olympics next month.
“I can just focus on skiing and not have to worry about that the next couple of races. I am really happy about that and I feel I can breathe a little more now and enjoy everything.”
She climbs the World Cup slalom standings into 16th place, ranks 47th in the overall standings and has now pocketed about $10,100 in prize money, which will help offset her significant team fees.