Behind the scenes with … Nik Huber (NOR)
"I have not regretted one minute of working in Nordic Combined!"
Nordic Combined was nothing that Austrian special jumper turned success-coach of Austrian ski jumping legend Wolfgang Loitzl ever wanted to work in in this life. Still, he is the jumping coach for the Norwegian national team in his fourth season now and couldn't be any happier. Huber talked to fis-ski.com about his way into Nordic Combined, his deep respect for the athletes and his life dream of winning an Olympic gold medal.
Nik, your career as a coach has been long, diverse and crowned with big successes. Can you tell us a little bit about what you did before you started working for the Norwegian team?
Nik Huber: I have been a special ski jumper on the Austrian national team. After ending my career, I have been at the national training centre in Eisenerz and worked my way into the Austrian Ski Federation from there. At the end, I was the head coach for the Continental Cup team.
During that time, I was also able to work with Wolfgang Loitzl who is from my home village of Bad Mitterndorf. With him, the mission was to win a World Cup. He has always been a "team jumper" and we ended up with him winning the Four Hills Tournament and becoming World Champion. In the following year, I had the honour to experience the same with Andreas Kofler who also won the Tourney. So, yes, I have been a coach for 15 years … and then the Norwegians came.
How exactly did that happen, you changing both country and discipline?
Huber: Their offer was interesting to me because I had to make a decision for myself. Actually, I never wanted to be a coach. I could never imagine me being the type for that. Even when I started to work as a coach, I always thought: "I can't do it!" Actually, sometimes I still feel like that today. So after 10 years of coaching, I wanted to have a year off. At the same time I got an offer from the school in Eisenerz and I actually wanted to go back to have a more regular structure, to not be on the road constantly and to be home more. My son was born around that time, too, so this was where I wanted to spend my time.
And then there was a phone call: Wouldn't you like to work with the Norwegians? I said: "Me? In Nordic Combined, as in "including cross-country"? Leave me alone! I am a special jumper! I have nothing to do with endurance sports! Never ever!" But in general, I had to make a big decision: what did I want? I had done everything you can do in ski jumping and they were offering me the chance to get to know something entirely new. And that was thrilling. On top of that, I always thought, if it's the German, Austrian or Norwegian national team, you gotta do it. Well, then it was Nordic Combined! (laughs) I had nothing to lose. And I was the first foreign coach after Mika Kojonkoski who was allowed into the Norwegian system. This chance to expand my horizon was the deciding factor.
With your long years in ski jumping, you can probably see the differences to Nordic Combined quite clearly. What is special about Nordic Combined?
Huber: It's very time consuming and it's a tightrope walk between endurance sports and ski jumping. We jumpers used to say, Nordic Combined athletes are only half of ski jumpers and half of cross-country skiers. But by now Nordic Combined is happening on a pretty high level. If you see how much these guys train, their level of performance, it's almost inhuman! You have to respect that. So I have also started to cross-country ski and I have never regretted only one minute spent in my job.
What do you like most about your job?
Huber: I love to travel and get to know different cultures. We are so privileged to be able to travel so much in these day and age!
If you had one wish to change something in Nordic Combined, what would it be?
Huber: After the last two weekends, I am simply wishing for a backdrop, a crowd like in Chaux-Neuve or Seefeld. I would love to see something like this Biathlon competition in the Arena in Schalke! A big crowd for us! No idea how exactly that might work but it would be paying the dues to what these guys achieve every day. They deserve the big crowds!
What do you want to achieve with your athletes in this winter?
Huber: I have had a lifetime dream and it's Olympic gold. I was not able to compete at the Olympics as an athlete, so I was not able to fight for a medal myself. But life plays in different ways sometimes and now I am having a group of athletes and we are in the fight for the medals. That's the best present I could ever get and one of my biggest wishes to be able to live this dream. I really hope it will happen. I will do everything I can for that! I always said, I am not working because I have signed a contract. I am working for this dream to come true!
The best moment in your job so far?
Huber: Actually, it's not a moment for me, it's a person: Haavard Klemetsen. Why? When I was 25, people toold me "You're too old for ski jumping!" So I ended my career. Haavard Klemetsen has gotten better and better with age. He shows us that it's possible to have great results also when you're older.
You have a lot of examples for that now: Ole Einar Bjoerndalen who is in great shape. Noriaki Kasai winning at Kulm. This shows us there's some enormous potential for top results in these athletes of advanced age. Haavard is on the best way in this direction. He is an enrichment for the whole discipline. I hope he will win everything! These are the best moments for me, to be able to accompany him on his journey and to see how he works his way through everything. I wouldn't exchange that for the world. This even means more to me than Loitzl's Four Hills Tournament victory.