Austrian alpine ski team’s secret to success

Claudia Loesch, Markus Salcher and Matthias Lanzinger helped the Austrians have one of the most successful alpine skiing seasons of any nation. 30 Apr 2013 By Jake Duhaime | For the IPC

“At the end of the day, we didn’t win these medals with luck. We had strong athletes with good skiing skills.”

How was Austria’s alpine skiing team so successful this season?

Well, the journey to the top doesn’t come without taking a risk or two.

For the Austrian programme, that means reducing the number of athletes (and spots) on its national team, giving preference to those with Paralympic and World Championship aspirations.

Those good enough to make the cut were blessed with better one-on-one coaching and more time on the snow. Most also took to training at the National Olympic Training Centre, where year-round conditioning was emphasised.

“We’ve made the squad criteria harder, I think one of the hardest in the circuit,” said national team coach Manuel Hujara. “It’s not that easy for athletes to join the team.”

The gamble paid off at the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, Spain, as Austria won the team event and finished second overall in the medal count. Markus Salcher, Philipp Bonadimann, Matthias Lanzinger and Claudia Loesch each won individual world titles.

“You can’t reach more than having a world champion in every discipline,” Hujara said. “Our athletes and staff did a fantastic job, but it’s just halfway on the road to Sochi.”

“At the end of the day, we didn’t win these medals with luck. We had strong athletes with good skiing skills.”

Loesch and Lanzinger

The 2013-14 season will bring greater stakes and increased expectations, though, especially when the experienced Austrians arrive at the Paralympic resort of Krasnaya Polyana.

Bonadimann and Loesch were medallists at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, with the latter taking home a pair of golds, a silver and two bronze.

Loesch, a 24-year-old sit skier from Innsbruck, should be at the top of her game by the time Sochi rolls around. She finished second in the IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup standings in 2012-13 behind Germany’s Anna Schaffelhuber, which is even more impressive considering she took the previous season off to further her education.

Loesch is also ranked second in the world in the downhill, slalom and giant slalom.

“When I came back from a year of studying, I wasn’t sure where I would find myself and if I could continue where I had left,” Loesch said. “I would say my biggest accomplishment of 2012-13 was skiing on a world-class level again after my year off.”

Lanzinger, who is tied atop the world rankings in the slalom and giant slalom, should also be at peak performance for next year’s critical season. The former able-bodied skier who suffered a double-leg fracture at an FIS World Cup event in 2008 won his first IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup title in Sestriere, Italy at the same resort he competed in the Olympics at in 2006.

He followed up that win by winning a world title in the super-combined, a silver medal in the super-G and bronze in the downhill.

“I’ve been training now for two years and everything I do is for this sport,” he said following the IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships.

“I know it’s very hard and very tough to compete at this level. I’ve had to train every day summer and winter and I’ve had to do a lot of training to compete.”

Salcher and Sochi

Salcher, the least experienced of the group at just 21 years of age, surprised doubters last season by finishing atop the world rankings after winning world titles in the men’s downhill and super-G.

He won’t fly under the radar any longer in 2013-14.

“There was a lot of pressure associated with the World Championships, especially the downhill,” Salcher said. “I won the two downhill training runs and after that, everyone thought it would be easy for me to win. I’m glad I did.”

With all of the success following a tactical shift in the team’s approach, Hujara and the Austrian skiers will take one more to start the 2013-14 season.

They won’t take part in the first two World Cup events of the season in Australia and New Zealand.

“It’s too early for us and not worthwhile during that time of the year,” Hujara said. “In September, we’ll start our training in Chile and continue to train over the winter months.

“Our goal might be to spend more time focusing on the European Cup events and use the World Cup competitions as primary training for Sochi.”

Related Images