Before the 2011 World Cup season was even finished, the ski community knew that the Italian team would be losing one of their biggest stars.
Arianna Follis, who had been racing on the circuit since 1995, saved the best part of her career for last. She was the World Champion in the sprint in 2009, and in 2011 placed third in the overall World Cup rankings and second in the sprint standings. But at 33 years of age, she said told SkiTime.it that “at some point in life, we need to make a change, and it’s time for me.”
Follis had inherited the spotlight from Stefania Belmondo and Gabriella Paruzzi, each of whom won individual gold medals in the Salt Lake City Olympics, and she was part of a cohort of equally strong Italian women, including Magda Genuin and Marianna Longa. Partway through the 2011 season she made her decision, which she said allowed her to enjoy the last races of the year.
Longa had paired up with Follis for bronze in the 2009 World Championships team sprint and just missed the podium in the same event at 2011 World Championships in Oslo, where she had three individual top-ten finishes. It looked like she and Genuin – who had considered not finishing the 2011 season after sustaining a calf injury before World Champs – would be the team’s leaders going into 2012.
But two months after Follis had retired, Longa decided to follow her example.
In 2005, Longa only raced twice due to a pregancy. Now, six years later, she wants to spend more time with her son, and the 32-year-old is ready to be a full-time mother.
Like Follis, Longa’s career was on the upswing. Besides her recent success at championship events, she had more than 20 top-ten finishes in World Cups, Tour de Ski stages, and mini-tour stages this season. She finished third overall in the 2011 Tour de Ski, and her success added up to a seventh-place ranking in the overall standings and fourth place in the World Cup distance rankings.
Follis and Longa, along with Genuin, who sometimes joined them in sprint finals, put Italy back on the map, and made it one of the few non-Scandinavian countries which could field more than a single all-around female star. With no significant
retirements from the Norwegian, Finnish, or Swedish women, the disappearance of the Italian pair will almost certainly make the lead pack at World Cup races much less diverse.
Genuin, who had voiced doubts about racing as the 2011 season ended, hasn’t done anything to suggest that she wouldn’t stay on the national team. She finished the year ranked eleventh in the sprint cup. Silvia Rupil, Italy’s next-best woman, was 48th on the overall list; the team will now struggle with depth.
Another Italian star recently announced his retirement, as well: Cristian Zorzi, the two-time Olympic relay medalist who also picked up bronze in Salt Lake City in the individual sprint. After racing in his third Olympic Games last year, Zorzi did not compete in a single World Cup race in the 2010-2011 season. In fact, after a busy early-season campaign, he only raced four times in 2011 – one weekend in February, and twice in March.
While Zorzi, who would have turned 39 next year, was no longer a contributing member of Italy’s robust national team, the retirement of a highly symbolic star – Zorzi had his biggest successes when sprinting was still relatively new – will change the landscape of Italian skiing. SkiTime.it reported that he would be moving into a technical role in the ski world.