Sara Hector’s Olympic gold medal is a lesson in perseverance

Beijing 2022 - Alpine Skiing
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The women’s giant slalom at the 2022 Winter Olympics was filled with plenty of disappointment. A missed gate ended Mikaela Shiffrin‘s Olympic title defense. Nina O’Brien had a scary crash across the finish line after a promising first run. All told, 31 of 82 skiers failed to finish either run one or two.

But the race concluded with a big dose of inspiration thanks to Swedish skier Sara Hector.

Hector, the fastest skier in run one, managed to hold on for gold by 0.28 seconds – her first Olympic medal in her third appearance at the Winter Games. She is the first Swedish woman to win Olympic giant slalom gold since Pernilla Wiberg won the event in 1992.

“I’m so proud that I could hold it together for two runs,” Hector said.

Video of Sara Hector winning gold in women’s giant slalom at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

Italy’s Federica Brignone won silver, improving on her bronze medal in this event from PyeongChang. Switzerland’s Lara Gut-Behrami earned bronze, her second career medal.

“Somewhere in your career you realize how much it costs to every athlete to fight, to be there all the time, to stand up when you crash, when things go bad,” Gut-Behrami said of sharing the podium with both Hector and Brignone. “I just really like when women still fight and we’re still there after a lot of seasons, and we’re still able to win and be on the podium. I really appreciate that.”

Hector certainly fought to stand on this podium.

In December 2014, the Swedish skier won what was – until very recently – her only World Cup win. A year later, she suffered a knee injury that required major reconstructive surgery, keeping her out of competition for over a year.

It was during that time time away that Hector’s mom, Maria, was diagnosed with ALS.

“It’s tough to see someone you love fight that much to be able to do normal things like walk and talk and, sometimes, it makes me very sad,” she told Olympics.com in January.

When Hector returned to the slopes, it was a bumpy ride filled with inconsistent results and lingering pain. Entering the current alpine skiing season, Hector’s only World Cup win in 140 starts was still that December 2014 victory.

But two months ago, her outlook started to change. In December at a race in Courchevel, France, the 29-year-old Swede defeated Shiffrin to win her first World Cup in seven years. And then she won again. And again.

And that’s when Hector became a medal favorite for the Olympics, a title that brings its own challenges, something she acknowledged in the finish area in Beijing.

“I really love ski racing,” she said, before correcting herself, “Well, I really love skiing. Sometimes racing can be hard.”

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC