Luxembourger Gwyneth ten Raa won the National Junior Race at slalom in Telfs, Austria with a time of 1.41 minutes and 73 milliseconds at the beginning of the year, and now seemed as good a time as any to request an interview with the rising alpine star.

RTL Today Radio’s The Lunchbox host, Stephen Steps Lowe, got in touch with Roger ten Raa, Gwyneth’s father and manager, and arranged a video call over Teams — what with Gwyneth only just back from an intense training session in Italy and Roger being back in Luxembourg, it made for quite an interesting conversation.

It’s been a long road to overnight success. And for a sportsperson who began life on the piste at just aged three, there is still a long way to go. Here we discover that there are quite a few challenges to overcome, not least financially, in ensuring that ten Raa has the best opportunity to achieve the goals she has set for herself.

You can listen to the full audio interview here:

The Lunchbox - Gwyneth ten Raa Interview

In talking with Gwyneth ten Raa you can be forgiven for forgetting that she is still just aged 17. Thoughtful and clear headed, ten Raa has a laser focus on being the best she can be. The win in Austria in early January will have put her name among a few ones to watch, but ten Raa knows she cannot get carried away. ten Raa began skiing as a hobby, one that it became clear she was quite good at, and when she started to win competitions with relative ease it was only natural to see just how far she could go. That included Switzerland and Italy… also Beijing (but that is a different story…)

RTL Today: How did you get into skiing in the first instance, because Luxembourg doesn't really have many mountains.

Gwyneth ten Raa (GtR): We were always going on vacations so, and we all enjoyed it (skiing). I really began to have fun and after a while we took part in a competition, and I got third place. My dad said “we didn't even train and you got third place. And I guess he thought ‘what happens if we do train’. So that’s what we did. I trained more and more and more and then I got in into a Switzerland-based team and we felt it was going in the right direction, so we just carried on.

RTL Today: Wow. So, it's happened quite quickly then.

Roger ten Raa (RtR): The whole process has taken many years.

GtR: Well, the process is very long, but yes, it's been very quick, lately, yeah.

RTL Today: How many years have you been skiing then as a hobby, and how many have you been skiing professionally or competitively?

GtR: I started when I was three, and then every year we went skiing and at 9 I started doing it competitively.

RTL Today: It’s not as a cheap hobby, is it? Or even a cheap sport to get involved in, particularly if you have to train further away. So where do you train and how do you train?

GtR: I always train in Switzerland, which is also not a cheap country, but in Switzerland, if you get into a Kader for an elite level, then some things are paid for you. We got lucky and I got into that. And then after we couldn't continue going to Switzerland, my dad found a team for international skiers who don’t have access to mountains or for particular reasons. They also commit to this team, and then we always train in Italy now and competition is also mostly in Italy.

RtR: It started in Switzerland when she was young and it was also that we created our club, and began training every year at the same place - in Grindelwald. From Luxembourg it's a good 5-6 hours of driving. So, in the first years we were spending all weekend there. We’d drive maybe all the weekends and eventually, we started driving on Friday, then on Thursday and then on Wednesday. Although school was going well, we knew we had to address it – and we decided to give it a go, Gwyneth stayed for a full year stay one year, and she ranked highly in what is a very competitive standard. For U16 Gwyneth was in the top five from all the Swiss girls. Therefore, she can normally go directly to the Swiss Kader. The only problem with that was, she does not have a Swiss passport. I had anticipated this problem and we found a way with the International Ski Racing Academy. Alice Robinson is on the same team. As a result, we moved from Switzerland to Italy for all the winter.

RTL Today: People who are new to your name and new to skiing. I mean, a lot of people in Luxembourg ski, obviously, but don't do it competitively. Could you tell me a little bit more about what exactly your discipline is?

GtR: I'm doing slalom and giant slalom. I'm trying also to do Super G which is like longer distance. For now, I don't want to do downhill cause it's a very long distance – and 140 kilometers per hour. I just want to concentrate on Slalom and yes get some experience with GS (Giant Slalom) and Super G. I just want to focus on those 3 disciplines for the immediate future.

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RTL Today:  And what does a general training day look like for you? I mean, what do you have to do? Do you have to watch what you are eating in terms of your calorie intake and how hard is a training day?

GtR: Umm, a normal training day. It starts early. You must eat enough at breakfast because we can train from 5 am. We spend hours on the mountain and then when we come back, eat lunch. We have to cook for ourselves - rest a little bit. We must do dry land training, core muscle groups a bit on the bike inside or out. We can go for walks if we like. We do video analysis, to see what we can do better cause it's like we can really then see what's going on because if you see yourself, you don't really know what's happening, you don't know how you look like. So having a video is like very important. We have to prep our skis. I don't know if many people knew that, but preparing our skis is very important. It's like helping us to be better and to be prepared for competition. That also takes a lot of time, and then we just rest the rest of the day.

RTL Today: And how do you juggle - I'm sure your your father might have something to say about it as well - your education and skiing competitively? When does one become more important than the other? Or is education still the most important thing?

GtR: At some point we had to choose between school/education or skiing, and my dad always told me “skiing, you can do it now, and if you don't do it now, you can never do it again”. And education, I can do it at 30. If I have to finish high school at 30, I'm going do it cause I think skiing is very important. It's also for my education, discipline. Doing a sport is very important for life. Having school next to training can be very stressful. My dad is very helpful and is OK that school is second priority. So yes, we chose skiing and I'm very happy we did.

RTL Today: What is the level of support that you get from the Sports Ministry, for example, do you have to do everything privately or do you get some support? I know you've mentioned with regards to the Swiss system that you've got some of the costs paid for you with regards to the kader, but do you also get support from Luxembourg?

GtR: Yes, we do. I think my dad can explain it better than me if I'm being honest, so.

RtR: We were with Luxembourg for a time and then with Switzerland and the Swiss Ski system we had to pay our fees and there were costs that were increasing every year. When you reach 16 years old you are in the FIS (Fédération internationale de ski) world and Gwyneth competes in the elite categories, we get some support but I had to find sponsors because without sponsors there's no sport that you can do at a top level, so last year I set up ASBL for Gwyneth’s future. This is not just for one year and normally she can do it 10 years. Most of the strongest girls are 23,24,25 till 30. You can compete at a high level, provided you avoid serious injury.

RTL Today: You've had quite, I'd say, decent success in the last three months. In particular, your award in Luxembourg for the best young athlete 2022, for example, and then starting 2023 with this win. Is it going to be easy for you to keep your goals and to keep your feet on the ground? And how hard is it for you to stay level-headed?

GtR: I'm very honoured to have won all these things. It was very hard. It's not like an easy thing, to win something. But I think if I stay concentrated, put in the work, work every year harder and harder and harder, I think I can do it. I believe that I have the capability to achieve things of very high standard and to be honest it's good to have high standards. I can always be better, better, better. I always look only one year ahead because if I look too much ahead, it can be overwhelming. So, I just want to focus on one year and know that I can reach a certain level and, with the help and support I get, I figure, I will manage.

RTL Today: She's very good in the PR already, isn't she?

RtR: The season ends in April, and we head to dry land training in Luxembourg. We do it with Pedro Martins, our personal coach and we need to ensure we are very strong because when the season starts again in November. You must be ready for all the season. So, in the summer it's really the dry land. I think it's more than a 60% requirement that you must be fit for doing all the year on the ski because if you're not fit you are finished.

RTL Today: Was it surprising, though, the victory?

GtR: Well, we get the start list, we also get the points we have in scale, and the objective is to get them as low as possible. And I saw that my points were the lowest. To put in a decent run, it would be only fair if I would have won. But of course, it's not the case I can do whatever I want and will probably win. It's not like that. Though we are on different levels there you had girls who were like, more points than you, but they still want to win. And after you have a title or a trophy, they then want to win against you even more because it would be good for them. So, no, It was not surprising. I still had to fight for my place. I had to show them that I am not just here for fun. I'm not kidding around, I'm here to win.

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RTL Today: Does that make it easier or harder for the next competition then? Because people now will expect you to achieve a higher ranking each time?

GtR: I think people should know that there are different levels and competition. Where I won was an NRC, it was for juniors, it was under 21. It begins with higher points and now I'm doing more FIS standard competitions. I will compete in the lower categories when I have no other competition to do. But I would prefer to do more FIS ones, as they are tougher, the standards are higher. It’s great to compete with the best and see how they're doing, how I can learn from them. I think that it is also important to sometimes lose and learn from that, find ways to improve.

RTL Today: Yeah, there's a lot more to learn sometimes from losing than there is  from winning easy. Could you tell me something for the radio perspective and what music you would be listening to when you are training or preparing?

GtR: I have to be honest, I'm not really someone who listens to a lot of music. I like to be in my own head and to be prepared 100%. But if I listen, sometimes I will listen to music when I'm getting too stressed or when I need more active music where it helps get my heart beating fast – maybe then, some rap. Mostly I’ll put on some motivating tracks, or active music.

RTL Today: What's your biggest goal for the remainder of 2023 was what do you hope to achieve?

GtR: I have some big competitions coming up at the end of January, so I hope that I will do well in them. In February it’s the World Championships, which is, like, a lot of pressure, it's a good pressure to have, though but I will do my best and see what will happens. I really hope that I can show people how well I can ski. For the rest of the year, I have competitions who are well not less important, but I hope to score some good points and prepare next year’s the World Champs.

RTL Today: And then eventually the Winter Olympics?

GtR: Yes, that would be the goal.