Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Swiss Announce Last Minute Changes to Men's Team in Schladming

A Boston Blickbild Exclusive

First of all, the Boston Blickbild wishes Lindsey Vonn a full recovery from the severe knee injury that she incurred in yesterday's Super-G race.
Now on to today's article...As our readers know, and anyone else paying attention to World Cup skiing, the Swiss men have had a dismal season. After 26 races the men only have one podium finish, Carlo Janka's 3rd place finish in the Wengen super-combined. The Swiss trainers feel that none of the current skiers on the speed team have a chance of winning a medal at the World Championships in Schladming. There was a crisis brewing on the team. Should the men's team stay at home or go to Schladming and come home in disgrace without a single medal? Fortunately the problem was solved when four of Switzerland's greatest ski racers volunteered to come out of retirement just for the World Championships. Roland Platzer, one of the Swiss national team trainers, took some time to give the Blickbild this exclusive interview.

BB: Who are the four skiers who came out of retirement?
Platzer: Pirmin Zurbriggen, Michael von Gruenigen, Didier Cuche, and Peter Mueller.
BB: In which events will they be racing?
Platzer: Zurbriggen will race in the 4 remaining events. After all, he is one of the few to win in all 5 disciplines in the World Cup, so he has a good shot at a medal in any event. Von Gruenigen will do the slalom and giant slalom. Mueller and Cuche will both compete in the downhill, with Cuche also doing the giant slalom.
BB: This is the first time in world championship history that a team was allowed to make wholesale last-minute substitutions. Normally the teams have to be declared before the championships begin. How did you get an exemption from this requirement and not be accused of bringing in ringers to help the team?
Platzer: Gunther Hujara knows how bad our team is. He let us see how our men performed in the opening Super-G before letting us add the retirees. The other Swiss trainers and I, along with Gunther and the rest of the FIS executive committee, decided that if none of the men had a top-10 finish we would add the retirees to the team. Silvan Zurbriggen had the best finish of our men in the Super-G in 11th place, so the retired racers were added to the team. We believed that Lara Gut's silver medal in the women's Super-G would inspire our men, but we were wrong. It was time for drastic measures.
BB: With the exception of Cuche, aren't the others rather old to be racing in the World Championships? Von Gruenigen is 43, Zurbriggen just turned 50, and Mueller is 55.
Platzer: Age is just a number. Anyway Hubertus von Hohenlohe was 52 at the 2011 World Championships and Jean-Pierre Roy was 47.
BB: True, but neither Roy nor Von Hohenlohe had a realistic shot at a medal.
Platzer: Neither do the current skiers on the Swiss team! But  Cuche, Von Gruenigen, Zurbriggen, and Mueller have 20 World Championship medals between them: 8 gold, 8 silver, and 4 bronze. They may be old, but they still know how to win. In fact, between them they won 11 medals at the Swiss Geriatric Olympics last month. Pirmin Zurbriggen won 5 medals: 2 gold, 2 silver, and a bronze. Didier Cuche won 2 gold medals and a bronze; Michael von Gruenigen won a gold and silver medal; Peter Mueller won a silver medal. So they can still hold their own with the competition.
BB: Yes, but men are at their physical peak in their late 20s and early 30s. After that their performance naturally deteriorates. I have a lot of respect for the four who are joining the team, but do they have a realistic chance to win a medal in a world championship versus in the Geriatric Olympics?
Platzer: They have a better chance than our current skiers, who are 20 to 30 years younger. I admire these four men for wanting to do their part to restore Switzerland to its former glory. If we carry on with our current speed team, our men will bring home a grand total of zero medals from Schladming.
BB: You do realize that this is a world skiing championship and not bowling or golf where you can get a handicap to compensate for lesser ability or age?
Platzer: Of course! Zurbriggen, Mueller, Von Gruenigen, and Cuche were the best skiers of their times. They don't need a handicap. They will show their younger teammates how to win by example.
BB: Since those four men haven't competed on the World Cup this season, they will end up starting at the back of the pack. How can they have a realistic shot at a medal with start numbers in the 80s?
Platzer: Carlo Janka finished 2nd in a race with start number 65. Of course that was a few years ago. Now we realize that Carlo was a one-hit wonder. Anyway, if Carlo could do it, the others can too. Nothing is impossible.
BB: Wouldn't it be best just to call this season a wash and develop younger talent for the 2015 and 2017 championships and 2018 Olympics?
Platzer: You are not Swiss, so you don't understand. We don't just make chocolate and cuckoo clocks or have banks with secret accounts in Switzerland. Skiing is in our blood. We are not just the land of Heidi; we are the country that produces as many ski champions as Austria. When our skiers perform poorly, we are shamed in the eyes of the world. The four men who came out of retirement to help our team understand this and want to aid their country.
BB: The Swiss men will start competing in women's races starting next season. Are you developing some new talent who will be able to compete with the men?
Platzer: Yes. We have talented young skiers in the technical events. They will carry on competing in men's races. When they are ready, they will become all-around skiers and race with men. But our current speed team will start racing with women next season.
BB: I realize that the speed team is having a hard time competing against their fellow men. But wouldn't it be more embarrassing if the Swiss men can't beat women?
Platzer: The Swiss team is unfortunately in a lose-lose situation. If we consistently beat the women, and win all of their crystal globes, we will be viewed as macho gorillas who are beating up on poor, defenseless women.We may even have to go back to the men's circuit. But if we can't even beat the women, then we will officially be the wimps of the world. Everyone will taunt our men about not being able to beat girls. Our men will be pelted with eggs and rotten tomatoes everywhere they go.
BB: Would the speed team compete in the men's or women's races at the 2014 Olympics and 2015 World Championships?
Platzer: They will compete against women. Only those who can consistently beat women in every race by huge margins in World Cup races will be allowed back onto the men's team. But if they perform poorly against men, then it's back to the women's tour for them.
BB: Let's say that Zurbriggen, Cuche, Von Gruenigen and Mueller do well in Schladming. Would they compete on the women's circuit with the rest of the speed team?
Platzer: No, they will compete with the men. Even though they are old, we would never embarrass them by making them ski against women. They are great champions who deserve respect.
BB: Didier Defago is an Olympic gold medalist, as is Carlo Janka. Carlo is also a world champion and overall World Cup winner. Aren't they also considered great champions?
Platzer: Your so-called intrepid reporters and researchers have obviously been sleeping through this season. With Didier Cuche retiring and Beat Feuz being injured, we realized just how bad our men's speed team really is. Carlo and Didier have had abysmal performances, as have all of the others on the speed team.They need help. If champion racers coming out of retirement can do their part to rescue our team, then more power to them!
BB: When Beat Feuz comes back next season, will he compete with the men or women?
Platzer: Men. Beat was our best skier last season and we have high hopes for him when he returns. Since he was the second-best man in the world last season, he along with the four retirees in Schladming will be the only Swiss men on the speed team who will be allowed to compete on the men's tour.
BB: Do Cuche, Zurbriggen, Mueller, and Von Gruenigen plan to compete beyond Schladming? Or are they just on the team for the championships?
Platzer: For now they are on the team just to compete in Schladming. But if they perform better than our current skiers,which is a good possibility, they are welcome to stay on the Swiss team for the Sochi Olympics and beyond. We could use men who know how to win, no matter how old they are. Who knows, one of them could set a record for oldest world championship medalist. You never know what can happen.
BB: That is true. Well Herr Platzer, I want to thank you for your time. You have your hands full with your team. I want to wish your team luck for the rest of the races. And that concludes another Boston Blickbild exclusive interview. 

Correction to this story: After this interview was completed, we found out that Silvan Zurbriggen was disqualified. The highest-finishing Swiss man in the Super-G was Patrick Kueng in 18th place. It looks like the Swiss team's decision to bring back their retired stars was the correct one. 

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