Behind the scenes with… Steffen Tepel (SUI)
It was a perfect time to talk with Swiss head coach Steffen Tepel about his view on the Nordic Combined world as just two days after the interview, Swiss athlete Tim Hug surprisingly won in Chaikovskiy, the Swiss their first victory in Nordic Combined in almost 20 years. So, who is Steffen Tepel who suddenly found himself to be a head coach in World Cup… of a one-man-team, that is.
Steffen, how did you come to coach in Switzerland?
Steffen Tepel: It is quite an interesting story. I dove into the deep end after Oslo 2011 when I ended my career as an athlete. First I wanted to do a sabbatical and finish my studies… actually, I haven't even gotten around to finish them until now (laughs). I am studying sports science, so I did not do the "classic" coaching study program in Cologne but studied sports science and sports therapy in Freiburg and I am finishing my coaching license right now, too.
So how do you do it, coaching and studying at the same time?
Tepel: I have always taken classes during the summer, but now I am still missing courses that are only offered in winter. So, I will have to work out some kind of a solution, but I am sure it will work out in the end.
With one A-team World Cup athlete and two COC-level starters, it must not be easy to split up your work time. How does that work?
Tepel: In summer, I have trained with Tim and tried to also cover Jan (Kirchhofer) and Christian (Erichsen). Jan is living at the ski school in Eisenerz and Christian lives in Oslo, so it's quite hard to offer a good home training for everyone with 2000 km in between (laughs). So, the two of them are more or less taken care of. Christian has been on training camps with us in summer and during the week, I have been in Einsiedeln with Tim.
We have a training cooperation with the U.S. team which is a big help for us. It was only three camps in summer but it was really cool. We have also done other camps together with the Swiss special jumpers. If you show up somewhere with one athlete, people are not going to open the hill for you. You need a team for that. On top of that, it's boring if you just have two people, there's no spirit!
In addition to you, there is also a new wax tech working for the Swiss team. How do you split up tasks?
Tepel: We had been looking for a service guy for quite a long time before we got the idea that the Americans could do the cross-country waxing for us and our service guy, Conny (Constantin Kreiselmeyer) the jumping service. I knew Conny from doing my coaching license and he had been with the German Ladies before. I didn't know about that but he told me at some point and mentioned he was looking for a job, so I just said: "heeellloo!!".
But we are really happy, he fits the team perfectly and it's all going really well now. We work together. In a small team like ours, hierarchy does not make much sense. We are all in the same age and work as equals.
As you have been an "insider" in Nordic Combined for a long time, as an athlete and now as a coach, what would you say is special about Nordic Combined for you?
Tepel: (laughs) Okay, I will not give you the usual "these are two amazing but totally different sports" answer now. I would say, it's awesome because you have the chance to shine in two different sports. This makes it interesting for a big group of athletes. We have some many different body types, I mean just look at Klimov and Mikko or Eric and Mikko and both manage to go for the same goal. I really like that.
On top, of course I really like both of our disciplines but I really don't like it - like everybody else is always saying "It's amazing to find the balance between the two". I think that is really hard. I prefer those phases in spring or summer when you can go full throttle in one discipline only. It's way easier to see progress then.
Another point is that the mental strength of your athlete is also influencing both disciplines immensely. Tim is really really fit but the head is deciding the results. While a good result can start an upward trend, bad results can totally drag you down. So you have to be super sensitive in fine tuning your athlete.
What do you like most about your job?
Tepel: I like the action of a race day. I am still nervous before each competition and before the jumps especially as this is my first season as a World Cup coach. But it's even more awesome if your athlete makes a good jump. The races so far were also amazing. Tim always caught up with a lot of guys. That is a lot of fun. Of course you also have bad times and the last two years have not exactly been easy.
If you could change one thing about Nordic Combined, what would it be?
Tepel: (without hesitation) I want a World Cup in Park City! I love it there, it's so cool. I have been there six or seven times. Ideally we would have a combination of Park City and Vancouver and a little bit of time in between. Or Steamboat Springs, that is also so awesome. And Japan! So we would have a really continental exposure together with Russia and Kazakhstan and all of the old traditional European places. Especially now where the Japanese and U.S. guys are so strong.
What is your goal regarding this season?
Tepel: Well that is a question of how optimistic we are going to be. (laughs) We have achieved the qualification for the Olympics now so everything's focussed on Sochi. And for that, my wish is just that Tim is continuing to show a good shape and good results. A top ten result at the Olympics would be wonderful. There's the talent for more but realistically, a top ten result would be fantastic.
Regarding the Triple, I am very excited for how it will look like: the general setup and everything. We will regard it as a normal World Cup but I think it is a really good idea. The test in summer was nice already. I really hope that the audience will like it.
What was the best moment in your job so far (interview was held before Tim Hug's triumph in Chaikovskiy!)?
Tepel: I can list a few terrible moments! (laughs) Schonach, where did managed to get the Olympic qualification was cool and also last year when he had his first Top Ten result in Klingenthal. When you have had setback after setback over the whole season and nothing is going right, whether in the World Cup, nor in COC, it's extremely liberating to have a good result all of a sudden!