Stecher: "For a Sochi medal, you need that extra bit of luck!"
After 20 years in the World Cup, there are not many who know the sport of Nordic Combined better than Austrian veteran Mario Stecher who had his debut on the 6th of December, 1993 - as a sixteen year-old. 20 years later, he is a five-time Olympian, two-time Olympic changing, two-time World Champion and as twelve World Cup wins under his belt.
Mario, how's your knee doing after you had to undergo another surgery in March?
Mario Stecher: Yes, that's correct. I had to have surgery on my cruciate ligament at the beginning of March. I couldn't use the leg at all for six whole weeks and after that I have slowly started to train again. I have been on the bike for five weeks now and on roller-skis for two weeks.
But you will surely have to skip the Summer Grand Prix this year?
Stecher: I hope to be making my first jumps in September. And after that, I'll just have to listen to what my knee is saying!
Where do you see points to improve? What will your training focus be for the upcoming winter?
Stecher: I think, I grew into quite a balanced Nordic Combined athlete by now. I jump well and can also deliver a top time on the cross-country track. Now, it will definitely all be up to how well I feel on the hill and that my knee is playing along.
An individual medal at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi is your declared goal for the winter of 2014. There is surely a number of athletes like Jason Lamy Chappuis, Eric Frenzel, Bill Demong or Bernhard Gruber who want the same thing, just to name a few. Who do you think will be the toughest competition?
Stecher: The best athletes in Nordic Combined are very closely together if you look at the results. There are many who can actually win a medal, the ones you named are definitely among them. You just need that extra bit of luck to go home with some precious metal!
Sochi would be your sixth Olympic Games. Is ending your career after this season something you're thinking about?
Stecher: I really can't say. As long as I am having fun and have the feeling I can keep up with the competition, I will continue to do what I am doing.
Do you have any plans for the life after the sport?
Stecher: I have started studying Sports Management last year. I will definitely stick with the sport and am looking forward to spend more time with my two little boys!
After 20 years of sports at the highest level: can you pick your greatest triumph?
Stecher: Every success was great in itself. But if I look at the way how I won it, I have to say my silver medal in Val di Fiemme last winter was pretty amazing.
At the World Championships, there was also some agitation around the change of your ski equipment company. Did you consciously provoke that?
Stecher: I had trouble to get good material for a while now. My old company is a top supplier with great equipment but if you know you're just not getting it, at some point, it's enough. At the World Championships, our service people were criticised and held responsible for our bad material. I couldn't allow that be out there uncontested.
Coming back to the Olympics: you first started in Lillehammer 1994 which is still remembered as an amazing winter sports moment due to its unique atmosphere. What is your favourite Olympic memory?
Stecher: Lillehammer was an unreal experience for me as a young athlete. The masses and spectators and the atmosphere has been uncontested ever since! But those moments in Torino and Vancouver when I crossed the finish line first in the team events were also one of a kind!
Nordic Combined is an amazing success in the German Ski Federation. Many athletes like Ronny Ackermann, Björn Kircheisen and lately Eric Frenzel have shaped the discipline with their constant successes. How is Nordic Combined's standing in Austria? The competition with sports like Ski Jumping and Alpine skiing is big!
Stecher: Yes, the competition in winter sports is big. But in the last few years, more and more Nordic Combined competitions were transmitted live on ORF. Mainly also because of the tight, intense medal decisions at title events, the attention and enthusiasm for our sport has grown in Austria.