The Slovenia Times

Andrej Šporn




Skiing has been the most popular sport in Slovenia for many years, particularly in the Yugoslavian era. But even in the golden age of Bojan Križaj, Rok Petrovič and later on Jure Košir, all the great successes were in the technical disciplines of slalom and giant slalom. Slovenian racers never came even close to the best downhill racers from Austria, France and Switzerland.

All of this changed on 23 February 2007, when Andrej Jerman won the downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This was the fiftieth Slovenian World Cup win and yet the first in men's downhill. Since then Slovenian downhill skiers have became unstoppable. Last year we were just millimetres away from the first Slovenian triumph at the most elite race in the world, the downhill in Kitzbuhel. Andrej Šporn finished second, just behind the Swiss legend Didier Cuche.

We met with Andrej just a few days before he went to North America, where the first downhill World Cup races of the season will take place, to ask whether he can go one better this year.

The World Cup started a month ago, but the first downhill races are in December. It must be hard to wait so long for the start of a new season?

Definitely, I must admit that my pre-season training has been very successful and that I can hardly wait for the season to begin. The summer training is the hardest part of the season, physically and mentally, while the races give you the motivation through the winter season.

What did the pre-season look like?

You always start a new season with fitness and condition training. This is usually in June and July and this year was no exception. Our first days on snow were in Zermatt, Switzerland, where we had some kind of introduction to the new season, just to get the feeling of snow back. Right after Switzerland we went to Chile for the main summer training. We stayed there for one month and practiced hard every day, not only downhill but also a lot of giant slalom. The conditions were great even though there was not a lot of snow. The second part of pre-season training took place in Pitztal, Austria. In the first few days, before bad weather came to Austria, we had perfect conditions and we had a couple of good training sessions with the Norwegian aces Svindal and Jansrud. If we put everything together I have nothing to complain about when it comes to the pre-season.

The curve of your results went up dramatically last season. What were the main things that put you up there with the best skiers in downhill?

Many things have to come together at the right time. For the first time in many years I had no problems with injuries. On the other hand, the atmosphere in the downhill team is great and on the base of the good results of Andrej Jerman, who won the Bormio downhill last year, other racers became more confident. And there is one more person we cannot forget - our downhill coach Burkhard Schaffer. He is a legendary coach with more than 20 years' worth of experience from Austria and Canada, where he worked with the best racers. He is 100 percent committed to his work and that gives you extra energy and motivation for hard training sessions.

The peak of last year's great season was the second place on the legendary downhill in Kitzbühel. What does it feel like, standing as a current leader in the finish arena, watching the best racers lagging behind you?

When I finished my run I did not believe that I could be on the podium at the end of the race. I made a big mistake in the top section, where I lost a lot of time, but on the other hand I knew that the bottom part of the course was extremely fast. When Bode Miler and Michael Walchhofer came after me, I started to believe in the top three placings. At the end only Didier Cuche, the best downhill skier of recent years, was faster and when I spoke with him after the race he admitted it was one of his best runs in the career. Regarding the atmosphere, Kitzbühel is a race like no other in the world. When you put together the hardest and the most extreme piste in the world and 70 thousand fans in the finish arena, it is just amazing to be there as the leader, waiting for other guys to come down.

The season starts in Canada and the USA, right after both Italian classics in Val Gardena and Bormio. And then there's a crazy January with Wengen and Kitzbühel. It's a busy schedule. Which downhill do you prefer best?

It's true it's busy but we have trained hard and are in good shape. The downhill in Bormio is always very challenging because of the ice and great speed. Wengen is magical because of the ambience, it is the longest race of all and the only transportation there is mountain trains and helicopters. It is a place like no other in the World Cup, but Kitzbühl is definitely at the top of the list. I just love racing there. Slovenians have won a few slaloms in Kitzbühl but now it is time for a downhill win and my own winner's gondola!


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