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Retired skier Paerson speaks out on gay rights

February 7, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Anja Paerson is embracing her post-competition career with the same kind of enthusiasm she showed off with her customary, celebratory belly flops on the snow.

After all, the Swedish skiing great has a lot to be excited about these days. She’s a mother. She’s working on TV, and she’s back at the Olympics.

Shortly after retiring two years ago, Paerson announced that she was in a long-term relationship with her girlfriend Filippa, ending years of speculation regarding her private life.

The couple’s son, Elvis, was born a few weeks later.

Paerson is working at the Sochi Olympics as an analyst for Swedish satellite TV provider Viasat and, since she’s here, she doesn’t mind discussing her opposition to Russia’s laws against gay propaganda.

“I don’t agree with them and I think a lot of people don’t agree,” Paerson said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But it’s good to discuss it.

“It’s an important statement for Sweden that I don’t allow anyone to choose how I should live my life — and that’s why I’m here and that’s why I’m doing this.”

Having won six Olympic medals, 13 world championship medals, 42 World Cup races and two overall World Cup titles, Paerson also has a lot of insight on skiing to offer TV viewers.

But first she’s learning the challenges of her new job — such as making sure she requests course permits at nightly coaches’ meetings — and says the logistics are giving her a headache.

“It’s such a complicated system. It’s crazy,” Paerson said. “You have to call this guy and you have to book it in advance. And every day do this, and this, and this — it’s much easier as an athlete.”

At 32, Paerson still appears to be in racing shape. So does she ever think about returning?

“When you see it you want to go, of course, but I have no regret quitting,” she said. “But when I’m here, for sure, if I had the choice then I would be racing.”

Besides the Olympics, the only other event she attended recently was the season kickoff in Soelden, Austria. She prefers spending time with her family now.

“It’s a nice life. Kids give you every day something,” Paerson said. “I really enjoy it. It’s just about every day finding harmony with myself. Not to work too much. You’ve been racing so many years, it takes time for everything to settle in your head.

“I’m happy with three weeks of Alpine skiing. And that’s it. I enjoy being at home.”

Paerson’s son will be joining her in Sochi next week. Until then, it’s work time.

“We have at least four or five good chances,” she said of Sweden’s medal prospects in Alpine competition. She’s predicting at least two medals, “I think they can do it — even three.”

Among the Swedish contenders are Frida Hansdotter, who won the last World Cup slalom race before Sochi for her first career win; Maria Pietilae-Holmner, who has three podium finishes this season in slalom and giant slalom; and Jessica Lindell-Vikarby, a giant slalom and super-G skier who has two career wins but who has struggled recently.

On the men’s side, Matts Olsson also had his best career result in the last race before Sochi, finishing fourth in a giant slalom in St. Moritz, Switzerland. And Andre Myhrer won the World Cup slalom title two years ago.

Until recently, Paerson was a member of the International Ski Federation’s athlete commission. She understands the athletes in Sochi can’t be distracted from competition, and thinks attention to any discriminatory laws in host countries needs to come from a higher level.

“I think what needs to be done is that the IOC takes more demand over the country that has the games,” Paerson said. “When you come here and you see the buildings and the sacrifices. You understand that a lot of things are going on.”


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