Annelise Coberger Born 1971
The Halberg Awards judges were criticised in 1992 when they gave the supreme award to Olympic skiing silver medallist Annelise Coberger ahead of Olympic boardsailing gold medallist Barbara Kendall. It was tough on Kendall, who was New Zealand’s first female Olympic gold medallist since Yvette Williams 40 years earlier.
However, the judges’ decision became more understandable with the benefit of time.
Coberger was the first southern hemisphere athlete to win a medal at the winter Olympics, and it doesn’t seem likely there’ll be another New Zealander joining her soon. It was a special feat, perhaps the equivalent of a Kenyan wining the British Open golf or a Fijian swimming to Olympic glory.
The Christchurch woman came from a skiing family – her grandfather, Oscar, who emigrated from Bavaria in 1926, was an early importer of ski gear to New Zealand in the 1940s and ran a ski business at Arthur’s Pass. Her father, Anton, was a national skiing champion. He and Annelise’s mother, Jill, travelled to Grenoble as officials with the 1968 New Zealand Olympic team. Her brother, Nils, and sister, Adele, were both national ski team members. Nils was slalom skier Mickey Ross’ coach at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
Annelise, who was of Scottish, German, Russian and Norwegian ancestry, was introduced to the slopes at the age of three at the Porter Heights club, near Christchurch, and was competing at national championships when she was 11.
When she was 15 she travelled to the United States with a New Zealand development squad, and big things were tipped for her.
Thereafter she improved markedly every year, progressing through international events to the Europa Cup and on to the elite World Cup circuit.
Coberger had to overcome several obstacles to progress. The main problems were New Zealand’s isolation from the big skiing action in Europe, and to a lesser extent North America and lack of funding. The amount Coberger required to mount a decent campaign was large by New Zealand standards, and especially before her Olympic success, funding agencies generally preferred to go with more traditional New Zealand sports.
Backed by a small team that included her coach Robert Zallman and assistant coach Juliet Satterthwaite, Coberger had consistent success. Displaying an almost flawless technique and with plenty of power, she won the German junior slalom championship, was second in the Slovenian equivalent and third in the Austrian, then bettered all those results by finishing third in the junior world championship.
She became the first New Zealander to win a Europa Cup event and was the cup slalom champion in 1991 and 1992.
She was 20 when she arrived at Albertville, France, for the 1992 winter Olympics, fresh from an historic (for a New Zealander) World Cup slalom win, a couple of thirds and a fourth.
Her Olympic debut in the slalom was inauspicious. She skied conservatively and recorded a time of just 49.08s, which put her eighth. That would have delighted any other New Zealander, but wasn’t what Coberger was looking for. The top three, including the favourite, Austrian Petra Kronberger, were nearly a second faster.
For three hours Coberger pondered her second run. In the best traditions of Olympic skiing, she decided to risk everything and either finish fast or dip out trying. Her second run was a phenomenal 44.02s, which rocketed her into first place. But with skiing’s reverse order start, Coberger had to endure an agonising wait while the final seven completed their second runs.
Each skier challenged Coberger and failed until Kronberger, third after the first run, finished 0.4s slower than Coberger’s second run, but with a combined total that bettered the New Zealander’s. Spaniard Blanca Fernandez and American Julie Parisien, who led after the first run, couldn’t do better and Coberger had the silver medal.
Coberger briefly headed the world rankings in 1992-93. She narrowly missed a medal at the 1993 world championships in Japan when she was ruled to have missed a gate. At the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics she crashed on her first run.
After hanging up her skis, she qualified to be a policewoman and then returned to Christchurch to raise a family. She was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.