Walter Hofer: "Every crash is one too many"

27 March 2015 17:43
FIS Race Director Walter Hofer
FIS Race Director Walter Hofer -

In our series "FIS Ski Jumping-Talk" we present interviews with ski jumping athletes and officials. Today: Walter Hofer (60), FIS Race Director for ski jumping.

FIS Ski Jumping: Hello Walter, did you already recover from the dramatic season final in Planica?

Walter Hofer: Of course these impressions still last, because it was a special experience with great excitement created by the athletes. It was a constellation, which normally needs a great script. It was pretty good.

FIS Ski Jumping: Is this a situation that the Race Director hopes for, with excitement until the very last jump?

Hofer: This is of course the ideal conception, that is not always possible. But there is a connection to our goal, which we pursue as a general policy. We want to have as many different winners as possible, a high variation regarding winners and podium results with athletes representing as many different nations as possible. This was the goal I set beforehand, it's great that it worked out exactly like that now.

FIS Ski Jumping: So now let's sum up the last season. How satisfied are you?

Hofer: It was definitely one of the most successful years for the World Cup. We had 13 different winners, and an additional winner at the World Championships. This will probably be confirmed by the key factors, like ratings, which we don't have yet. It was one of the most exciting, but also one of the most difficult winters, because we were struggling a lot with the weather conditions. But thanks to our technical systems we were able to carry out the competitions, even if it was not always easy.

FIS Ski Jumping: When you think about difficult conditions, which competition do you remember the most?

Hofer: At the World Championships in Falun we would not have been able to make one single jump without the windnet. There was a constant wind of about eight to nine meters/second. Also the other 14 days in Scandinavia. Lahti, maybe the most notorious hill, was actually one of the calmer events. But then it was very difficult in Kuopio, Trondheim and Oslo. It was also not easy at the 4-Hills-Tournament in Oberstdorf and Innsbruck. At the Kulm we had to cancel a day of competition. We were affected a lot by the conditions and were only able to carry out a majority of the events due to our assistive systems.

FIS Ski Jumping: Severin Freund is the first German overall World Cup winner in a long time. As a Race Director you are of course obliged to neutrality. But, for simply pragmatic reasons, how important is a strong German team for ski jumping? 

Hofer: This is important for a national ski association. One needs to know that the FIS doesn't hold the marketing and TV rights for the World Cup events. The national associations hold these rights. So for us it's great to have that many winners from different countries. For the German Ski Association it's perfect. But of course also every other national association is more than welcome to have an overall World Cup winner. Our philosophy is not only focusing on the athlete himself, but also on the product ski jumping, on presenting a stage for the athletes. Then it's on the athletes to put the icing on the cake. That's what makes it possible to have such a wide range from Freund to Prevc, from Kasai to Ahonen, from Stoch to Ammann. You have to create this. This is not working if you focus on the individual athlete, but if you create a stage where the athletes can show their performances. And we were able to manage this pretty well over the last 20 years. 

FIS Ski Jumping: We have been talking about many nice experiences, but there were also bitter moments last winter. Especially Bischofshofen comes to mind, with the two serious crashes of Nicholas Fairall and Simon Ammann. How does this play a role in the analysis of the season? Are you concerned about how to make ski jumping even safer, or is this the risk you simply have to live with in a sport like this?

Hofer: We don't settle for this. Of course we know that ski jumping is still a high risk sport. We also know that we were able to make ski jumping safer with various measures. But every single crash is one crash too many. And we have to work every day to prevent also this one crash. That's what we are working on constantly and we try to improve our systems. We are on a very good path when it comes to the inrun, also concerning the set-up in the air. What still causes problems sometimes is the landing and the outrun. Apart from that we are on a good way. With the regulations concerning the equipment we were able to reduce the number of injuries last year, especially knee injuries.

FIS Ski Jumping: Another main issue last winter was ski flying. There was a new world record set by Anders Fannemel. Do you think a limit was reached there? Also with regard ot the physical capablility of the athletes?

Hofer: Not the physical capability of our athletes reached a limit, but the size of the facilities. The ski jumping committee limited the size of the hills. Vikersund and Planica reached this limit, so the distances of the jumps will remain in the areas we saw this season. The other ski flying hills are smaller. I can't imagine that the standards for the construction of the hills will be extended over the next years, so that further reconstruction would be possible. But this doesn't necessarily have to be in our hands.

FIS Ski Jumping: So you don't expect that the diggers will start working again in Vikersund or Planica over the next months in order to make five meters more possible?

Hofer: If the diggers start working again, then to expand the areas for the spectators. Ski jumping is dependent on the enthusiasm and the emotions. We would be ill-advised if we would build larger hills and move the spectators farther away. It has to be the other way around. The spectator needs to be closer. This is the right way.

FIS Ski Jumping: Let's look a little bit ahead: Next season there will be no Olympic Games or Nordic World Championships. What can the fans look forward to?

Hofer: We are the only FIS discipline, who also has World Championships next year, in ski flying. But of course our World Cup consists of more than just that. We have numerous highlights. We have the 4-Hills-Tournament, other highlights like Zakopane, Vikersund and Planica. We will be in Russia again, and in Kazakhstan for the first time. There will be a number of highlights.

FIS Ski Jumping: Will there be changes of the rules?

Hofer: We are satisfied with the current appearance of ski jumping, especially since we made a small step back concerning the suits compared to the year before. This had a very positive effect. There we will make some additional small modifications in order to make it a bit easier for the athletes. But apart from that there will be no changes directly affecting the athletes.

FIS Ski Jumping: Next will be the FIS Grand Prix. What changes will be made regarding the calendar?

Hofer: We want to have a more compact program. That's why there will be a series in Europe first. We start in Poland, then we will go the Klingenthal and Hinterzarten, followed by Courchevel and Einsiedeln. After these events in Europe we continue in Asia, Russia and Kazakhstan. The final will take place in Hinzenbach.

FIS Ski Jumping: Finally a personal question. You always say that this is not a job for you, but your hobby. Does Walter Hofer take some time off?

Hofer: When I'm home I'm permanently in the recovery mode. I work calendars and the plans for the inspections. Of course it's nice if, for once, you don't have to worry about the weather. Usually the weather forecast is hanging over a weekend like the sword of Damocles. Now we will have the committee meetings, calendar conferences, we plan the inspections. We are already working for the Olympic Games 2018 in South Korea. There will be inspections in Lahti and Seefeld for the upcoming two World Championships. It's a permanent cycle. So it's basically only a change from a mobile to a stationary work.

FIS Ski Jumping: So we wish you a successful summer and some relaxing hours at home.