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Marco Odermatt speaks in an interview

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Marco Odermatt speaks in an interview

In the last giant slalom of the season, the seemingly impossible happened: Marco Odermatt was eliminated. Nevertheless, he can look back on an exceptionally successful winter. It’s nice to be part of ski history thanks to records, he says.

Despite dominance, he doesn’t feel like he’s in a league of his own: overall World Cup winner Marco Odermatt.

Andrea Zahler for NZZ am Sonntag

Marco Odermatt, you are driving a season that is probably very close to perfection. Does the thought arise that you can’t top these?

I’ve had this feeling for years. When I suddenly became second overall in the World Cup in 2021, I thought: Will I be able to achieve that again? That winter I was on the podium nine times, had three wins, three second places and three third places. I thought: Wow, it couldn’t get much better than that. A year later I won the overall win, and last year I had a record-breaking season. And now things got better again. So let’s see what happens next season.

You have basically already achieved everything you can achieve as a skier. What keeps you going?

I don’t have everything yet. There are still important races coming up for which I am very motivated to achieve one or two things that are still missing. It’s nice to win races – that’s motivation enough.

How important are records to you?

People always say that the balls (for victories in the overall ranking or in discipline rankings, ed.) are more important. And yet records are something that usually last longer. A ball is forgotten the next year, is won by someone else, or you win it a second time. That’s why it’s nice when you can be a part of ski history. I think the points record from last year is the most special.

You often say that having fun and enjoying skiing is important to you. Have you already missed this one?

The joy of skiing is certainly important. But there is no real joy in driving at the races. There it’s more about the joy of the whole package, this life, being on the road with colleagues, the emotions of the races themselves. It’s all fun. Skiing is often the hardest part of it all, there’s the struggle, the nervousness, I can’t sell that as just fun.

So you mostly enjoy skiing outside of the races?

Correct. If I can ski freely on a perfectly prepared slope early in the morning before training, it’s more fun than driving a race with full power, at 100 percent and also at risk. The exciting thing there is the challenge of perfecting and improving everything.

Isn’t there a feeling of happiness when you hit a curve brilliantly or, for example, when you realize on your world championship descent: Wow, now I have achieved perfection?

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Yes, definitely. It’s like a different task, and if you master it correctly, there are feelings of happiness. More in the downhill than in the giant slalom. With so many gates in the giant slalom, it is easier to hit a swing well, but it is also easier to make a small mistake. When you hit all of the ten corners on a descent and feel like you’re jumping far, you’re traveling faster: that gives you the feeling of a perfect ride.

Marco Odermatt’s perfect journey to World Cup downhill gold in 2023 in Courchevel.

In the giant slalom you were almost able to play with your opponents until you made a mistake in the last race. Still: Are you in a league of your own?

I was also lucky a few times that it worked out so well. That’s why I definitely don’t see myself in any other league. It takes a lot every day for it to work like this. Of course, during the race I now know a little about what it takes: If it goes normally, I’ll be there. If I make a mistake I might be a little behind, but anything is still possible if I accelerate.

What kind of feeling does that give you at the start? Do you feel invincible? Is it different than other disciplines?

Nope. Trust is very, very high in every discipline. When you start with such confidence that you know you can win the race, it gives you a good feeling.

It’s probably the opponents who start with a different feeling. For example, in the second round in Schladming, Manuel Feller didn’t look like he believed he could win the race.

It is logical that the opponents also sense my trust in myself. You know it’s difficult to beat me. So I benefit twice. It gives me trust, but it takes it away from others.

Is that pleasant, or do you prefer big duels like you had and still have in the downhill with Aleksander Aamodt Kilde or Cyprien Sarrazin?

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These duels are more exciting for the sport, the fans, even for me. In the giant slalom I almost rode for myself or was only able to beat myself. It’s different at speed, where you have driver against driver. That’s really cool, and it happened more often in the last giant slaloms, someone always came very close (the interview was conducted before the race on Saturday, ed.). Then I have to push myself to the limit to get the crucial hundredths out of it.

You’ve been top class in the giant slalom for a long time. How important is the downhill ball to you?

That would be the most important little ball, it is the supreme discipline in our sport. And the most difficult discipline if you want to win the ball because the descents are extremely different. Being the best there consistently over a whole season would be worth the most to me.

Can you imagine that at some point you will only focus on speed?

Yes, good actually. Racing three disciplines is very intense, mentally and physically. I won’t be able to do this for another ten years. Maybe another three or four years until the upcoming major events are over.

You bring up something interesting. Several overall World Cup winners have already said that consistency over an entire season requires a lot of energy. Have you ever had the feeling that you were at your limit?

Often. Last season a little more, this season probably after the races in Kitzbühel, Schladming and Garmisch, it was really a brutal time. With the cancellations in Chamonix and now in Kranjska Gora, there was a week’s break each. I’m not used to that, it was really good. I don’t feel tired of the season at all yet, it could easily go on for longer.

When the fatigue is there like in January, is it more physical or mental?

More mental. Of course, at some point your body will be tired, everything will be a little faster, and you’ll have to do the physio exercises a little more consciously. But I was very lucky again this season, I rarely hurt anything and I had everything under control physically.

There was a lot of talk about the design of the racing calendar this winter. Do you think it is necessary for you as a driver to work with the world association FIS to ensure that this coming season looks reasonable?

That would be the plan, yes. We are expected to have another meeting next week in Saalbach. So that you have a better plan and don’t just give the green light to races for insurance reasons even though there is actually no snow. And then there are unnecessary cancellations again like last weekend in Kranjska Gora.

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What would be your wish?

It has become clear that the athletes do not like double races. Whether in the downhill run like in Kitzbühel or in giant slaloms like in Alta Badia. If the weather is bad, you lose two races in the same discipline. And then the mix: For me, who competes in several disciplines, this season went well; it was probably the loosest in recent years. But the speed riders, for example, haven’t had a race for five weeks, which isn’t ideal.

You need a lot of tension for the races, but in between you need to relax in order to slow down. How do you do that?

I’m probably good at that, building up the tension in the short term and letting it go relatively quickly after the races. When you do so many races, it’s important not to spend too long unnecessarily in race mode, because that’s where you need the most energy. For me, routines help, for example, doing my things after the races so that I can check them off. Then I start with regeneration measures such as physiotherapy and automatically get into recovery mode.

What are the things you do?

I usually answer all the Whatsapp messages and play on Instagram on the way home, and when I get home I immediately unpack, wash and fold the next morning. Or I’ll stop by my parents’ house and do the mail. This way I can fully recover afterwards.

Do you have anything like free time in winter?

Not normally, no. In the one or two days between the races I do things at home, sleep in, maybe have a massage, watch the slalom, eat well. If there are breaks, like this winter, I do strength training or go powdering with colleagues and my girlfriend or go on a ski tour, like last week. But it was the first ski tour of the whole year and the second powder day after a recent one in the USA.

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