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Coach behind ski team revival stepping down

Martin Rufener will return to his other passion - aviation Keystone

The head of the Swiss men’s national alpine ski team who helped breathe new life into the squad has decided it is time to move on.

Martin Rufener, 51, said he would not renew his contract with Swiss Ski for next season, opting to work for a private aviation company instead.

“With Martin Rufener we are losing a very competent boss,” Dierk Beisel, head of Swiss Ski’s competitive sport section said. “Martin took over the team during a very difficult time. In six years he achieved exceptional results.”

Beisel said the team would have certainly rallied behind Rufener to lead the Swiss men to the next Winter Olympics in 2014 in Russia but that executives could not match a package that Swiss Jet had offered Rufener.

The hunt for a new men’s head coach is already underway though no successor has been named. Swiss Ski said it would discuss Rufener’s replacement in the coming weeks.

“For now we’re focusing on the current season and the upcoming alpine World Championships so that together Martin Rufener and his team can be successful contestants,” Urs Lehmann, president of Swiss Ski, said in a statement, adding that the group wished Rufener all the best in his new activities.

Back on the slopes

Rufener took up the reins of the men’s team in 2004, replacing Karl Frehsner who had held the post for two years. The Berner Zeitung newspaper reported at the time that 20 candidates had been considered for the job.

Rufener already had considerable experience by then, although it had been more than a decade since he had held his last major post with a ski team.

From the mid-1980s into the early 1990s Rufener coached the American women’s ski team, followed by a brief stint with the Canadian men’s ski team until 1993. That year he returned to Switzerland for a commercial helicopter pilot job, the journal Ski Racing reported in 2004.

At the time the Swiss men were struggling to find their form as the Austrians – led by people like Hermann Maier and Benjamin Raich –  repeatedly elbowed the Swiss off the podium.

The best Swiss men’s alpine skier that season was Didier Cuche, who finished the year in 13th place with 647 points.

The Swiss men held their own to score 2,660 World Cup points overall to end the season in third place. But Austria seemed untouchable, having crushed the field with a whopping 10,631 points.


But things would turn around dramatically for the Swiss men under Rufener, who restructured the team’s staff. By the end of the World Ski Championships in Val d’Isère, France, in 2009, the Swiss would finally grab the crown from the Austrians and amass six medals to the Austrian’s five for the overall win.

The resurrection had begun in earnest in 2007, when the Swiss men rallied consistently to become reliable threats. Rufener began to reel the Austrians in thanks to big wins from Didier Defago, Silvan Zurbriggen and Didier Cuche, who took third overall that year. The team whittled away at the Austrian’s lead to take second place overall with 3,657 points behind Austria’s 5,897 points.

In 2008 a Swiss man finally stood above an Austrian on the overall podium as Cuche took second, beating Raich but not American Bode Miller. The men’s team held off Italy to take second overall, still 2,700 points behind the Austrians.

The Swiss continued to produce consistent results over the next few years. By the end of the season in 2010, the Swiss dominated the overall podium for the first time in years with Carlo Janka in first and Didier Cuche in third overall. The Austrian men were still the overall champs but the gap over the second-place Swiss had narrowed to 1,006 points.

So far the 2010/2011 season is tipping in Switzerland’s favour but barely. After 11 races Silvan Zurbriggen currently holds the overall title with one point ahead of Austrian Michael Walchhofer. The Austrian men lead the Swiss overall with 1,981 points to 1,427.

In Switzerland, skiers and spectators can look forward to World Cup events in Adelboden (January 8-9), Wengen (January 14-16) and Lenzerheide (March 16-20).

The World Championships, which take place every two years, will be held in the German resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen from February 8-20.

Meanwhile, the junior World Championships are being held in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana from January 29-February 6.

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