"Ski hopes are sometimes far from reality"

Didier Cuche is Switzerland's sole medal winner in Garmisch so far. Reuters

Switzerland hoped for six medals at the World Ski Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but more than half way through has achieved only one.

This content was published on February 16, 2011 minutes
Samuel Jaberg in Garmisch-Partenkirchen,

The technical races are still to come at the weekend, but by Wednesday Didier Cuche was the only Swiss to have won a podium place, with a silver in the downhill.

 spoke to Urs Lehmann, president of the Swiss Ski Federation about the championships, and about the challenges facing the Federation, including its problems with Lara Gut, one of the brightest hopes of the Swiss team.

Gut was suspended for two races in December after publicly criticising the head coach, Mauro Pinto. Gut, who trains separately from the national team, was also in trouble for not wearing the official team clothes of the sponsors.

Lehmann, who has been president of the Swiss Ski Federation since 2008, was the surprising winner of the world downhill title in 1993, in Morioka, Japan. Urs Lehmann, what are your feelings about these World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen?

Urs Lehmann: The runs are very spectacular, and the performances are equally so. For a major event like this one, you need a piste that’s more demanding than normal. Only the best win. Large crowds have come to watch, so my general impression is very good.

As for the performances of the Swiss skiers, we really could have hoped for better, given the potential of these athletes. We have won four fourth place positions, and that’s all part of sport too. But what I remember most is Didier Cuche’s silver in the downhill. He put in an excellent performance, despite the fact his position in the starting gate put him at a disadvantage. The women’s team will certainly come back empty handed from a major world event for the second time after Vancouver [2010 Winter Olympics]. How do you explain that?

U.L.: We had hoped for two medals, but hopes are sometimes far from reality. Lara Gut and Dominique Gisin alone gained three fourth places. They are up there, but not in the place we would want. So that is a disappointment. Even so, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see these girls at the top. Last year Hugues Ansermoz was sacked after two Olympics without a medal. Is Mauro Pini, the new women’s coach, in danger?

U.L.: I don’t understand that question. No-one has ever had to fear for their job less than a year after taking it up. Mauro is doing excellent work, he has already put his mark on the women’s team. He has set up suitable structures for up-and-coming skiers. The recent junior World Championships were crowned with success, and that’s also the result of Mauro Pini’s work. This winter we’ve seen Lara Gut back on the pistes. There has been a lot of tension between her and the Federation. You went as far as suspending her for two races. What is your relationship like now?

U.L.: Our relationship is very good. Lara is a girl of 19, in a situation that’s not at all easy to deal with. It’s not surprising that we should have had discussions with her. It’s a pity that this had to come out in public. But after a week and a half our relationship settled down again. Lara is well integrated in the team, and has admitted her mistakes. Couldn’t the Federation have stopped her from setting up a parallel training structure from the very beginning, to avoid such problems?

U.L.: The main aim of the Federation is to achieve successes. In the end, that’s what counts. With Lara we had an exceptional 17-year-old talent in our hands. What were we to do? Force her to join the official structure of Swiss-Ski, and risk losing her?

In the long term, the aim is to bring her closer to the Federation. But that’s already what’s happening now. During the winter she became fully integrated in the team. The challenge for the Federation is simple: to have the best trainers so that the girls want to train within the Federation. You just spoke about the recent junior World Championships in Crans-Montana, where Switzerland won 11 medals. A good sign for the future?

U.L.: These are the first very positive indications for the future. We now have to bring these young talents as quickly as possible into the World Cup. Young racers like Pinturault [France], Curtoni [Italy] and Sejersted [Norway] made the leap very quickly, and have done well at the World Championships. For a long time Switzerland lagged behind its neighbour Austria as far as promoting the next generation was concerned. Has this difference been overcome in the past few years?

U.L.: For a long time the Austrians were two steps ahead. Our priority was to make up for this delay. Given the results of the last junior World Championships, we can say we have succeeded in this task. In the combined, a discipline which in the juniors includes the giant, slalom and downhill, the Swiss won five of the possible six medals in Crans-Montana. Proof of the all-round skills of our young athletes.

World Championships Garmisch

The ski world championships are taking place from February 7-20.

There are five individual races (downhill, super-G, giant, slalom and super-combined) for men and for women, as well as a mixed team event.

The resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is in Bavaria, a few kilometres from the Austrian border.

It was the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics, and is part of Munich’s bid for the 2018 games.

It has hosted the World Ski Championships twice, in 1978 and 2001.

Garmisch is the site of the Kandahar run, reputed to be one of the toughest in the world. The Kandahar is one of the runs on the World Cup circuit.

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Urs Lehmann

Urs Lehmann’s best competition result came in the 1993 World Championships in Morioka, Japan, where he was the surprise gold medal winner of the downhill event.

In the same year, he finished 52nd in the world rankings,  the highest classification of his career.

In 2008, he succeeded Duri Bezzola as the head of the Swiss Ski Federation

Lehmann is married to former Olympic freestyle ski champion, Conny Kissling.

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