It's more or less a common fact, that big names of the scene like Shaun White get recognised whenever they walk out of their front doors or hit the slopes around the world. It's pretty rare that this happens to someone competing in the alpine snowboard disciplines.
Siegfried Grabner is one of those exceptions to the rules as the Austrian race board veteran gets recognised pretty much - especially in Asia. Whenever some Japanese fans are walking by asking for an autograph, the 2003 World Champion, who is still wearing his signature plait of hair, stops and takes some time for a chat.
This special relationship with the land of the rising sun emerged after his first trip to the fourth biggest island state of the world in 1997. "The flight to Japan was my first big trip. Japan was a totally different world; everything was completely new to me" Sigi remembers his first travel experience.
However, this journey finally turned his world upside down. The first Austrian male snowboarder to earn Olympic honours (Bronze in the 2006 PGS) got to know a local video production crew ending up with some movie parts over the next years. Due to his long freeride and carving sequences and because of some videotaped snowboard teaching lessons the 2009 Overall World Cup winner became a big star in Japan.
"The videos were good sellers. So, everyone in Japan and Korea, who was into this, knew me." And never forgot this outgoing snowboarder. But although the Carinthia native had a strong connection to Japan he also had to deal with one of his biggest defeats taking place on the Honshu Island in 1998. At the Winter Olympics in Nagano, where he was the biggest bid for Gold, Grabner came out as disappointed 23rd.
However, this "boarder between the worlds", which is literally the title of a book he wrote in 2003, learned from experiences like this one; especially after he couldn't met his and the media's expectations at the 2002 Winter Games again.
He came back winning the title at the Worlds in his home country, at Kreischberg, in 2003 plus proving his outstanding riding skills by grabbing a podium spot in Torino - a medal which no one really had expected. "Those two medals for sure are what I call my biggest success" Grabner said.
Those achievements and the moving to La Massana, Andorra, which has been his main place of residence for quite a ten years now, gave him the chance to widen his perspective. While the 1975 born is still focusing on sportive success he also took his time to invest in the future.
The highly decorated rider, who claimed 34 podiums including 14 wins in more than 135 World Cup starts until the end of the 2013 season, started to develop his own boards also forming his own team of young and promising athletes from all over the world.
However, although another injury set him back in the preparations for his last Olympics his experience and carving skills still make him part of the big names aiming an Olympic medal.
And by doing so, this true snowboard icon is close to set a record as the most successful athlete of the past two decades could be one of the only two snowboarders (other one is Jasey Jay Anderson) to compete in so far all five Olympic Winter Games since the introduction of the sport in 1998.
It would be a nice topping on an outstanding career which will definitely come to an end March 2014.
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