In 13 days, New Zealand skier Alice Robinson will compete in the event that announced her to the Alpine skiing world in 2019.
The 20-year-old will chase New Zealand's second-ever Winter Olympics Alpine medal (after Annelise Coberger's Slalom silver in 1992 at Albertville) when she lines up in the Giant Slalom in Beijing.
At the start of the season Robinson was considered a strong contender to podium in GS at the Olympics. She had won the last race of last season, the World Cup finals in Switzerland in March, after finishing fourth at the World Championships in Italy. There was an air of confidence about her skiing.
But the results have not come for Robinson in GS this season. She finished 13th overnight in a World Cup race in Kronplatz in Italy. Her combined time was 1.59 seconds behind Swede Sara Hector who has risen from nowhere last season to claim three World Cup victories.
Robinson and her team acknowledged beforehand it was an important race in terms of gaining confidence ahead of the Olympics and she will be disappointed with the outcome.
The Kiwi's best result is an 11th in the season opener in Solden in Austria in October. That was the race where she attained instant fame when as a 17-year-old she won her maiden World Cup race in 2019 and prompted comparisons with American great Mikaela Shiffrin, who as an 18-year-old won Slalom gold in the 2014 Sochi Olympics and four years later GS gold in Pyeongchang. Shiffrin has gone on to amass 73 World Cup victories at the age of 26 across multiple disciplines and is considered one of the all-time greats.
However, the comparison to Robinson as a teenager is unfair. The funding difference alone is massive. In the early days, Robinson relied almost exclusively on her parents who even now contribute to her campaign. Shiffrin's annual budget runs into the millions and includes regular travel on private jets and an army of support staff.
By contrast Robinson's team is small and she travels with her coaches Chris Knight and Jeff Fergus, ski technician Pepe Culver and Snow Sports physio Sarah Gillespie.
There have been mitigating factors which have impacted Robinson's results this season. After Solden, the race in Killington in the US in late November was cancelled, with a double header instead held in Courchevel in France prior to Christmas. Before then, Robinson competed in two World Cup Super G races, and in the second in St Moritz, she finished fourth, a career best result in a discipline she had made fewer than 10 World Cup starts.
She then contracted Covid-19 which sidelined her from the following week's Super G in Val d'Isère and the two GS races in Courchevel. When she returned after Christmas for the GS in Lienz in Austria, Robinson failed to finish despite being right on the pace and afterwards admitted to not quite being 100 per cent after her nearly two weeks of isolation.
The following week she was flying down the hill in Kranjska Gora in Slovenia and on course for one of the fastest first run times when a mistake near the bottom almost saw her crash, causing her to lose time and fail to qualify for the second run.
Robinson also spent more time on Super G skis this season and has also integrated the ultimate speed test, Downhill, into her programme. She has made such rapid progress that she may well ski the Downhill at the Olympics. Her fourth, seventh and ninth in her past three Super G races suggest she will be a strong contender to challenge for the podium in that discipline with the race on February 11 in China, four days after her tilt at GS glory.
At the start of the season, making the podium in Super G was very much a long shot. That's not the case now.
The stark reality is Robinson is only 20, all her rivals are in their late 20s or early 30s, with so much more experience. But Robinson and her team are adamant she's skiing well enough and they have time to make the adjustments necessary to get back to where she was at the end of last season in GS. China will be a level playing field, no one will have skied the hill used for the Alpine programme.
Robinson has had three World Cup Giant Slalom victories and five podiums in her past 19 races. You sense she isn't far away, and if she can rediscover her confidence, maintain her aggressive style and execute her powerful turns, the Queenstown skier will be a contender in Beijing.