Over the last almost 30 years, FIS Race Director Dr. Walter Hofer left his mark on Ski Jumping like hardly anyone else.
Ski Jumping without Walter Hofer? Almost unimaginable - but it's decided. March 23rd, 2020, the final day of the Ski Flying World Championships 2020 in Planica (SLO), the final day of the 2020 Ski Jumping winter season and also the final day for Walter Hofer as FIS Race Director.
An era in Ski Jumping will come to an end after the 2019/20 winter season. The era of Walter Hofer.
Walter Hofer played a decisive role in making Ski Jumping - which is actually a niche sport - so popular.
It was him, who managed the sport strategically for decades and turned Ski Jumping into a real highlight on TV with constantly new and innovative ideas. With the early announcement of his retirement, Hofer offers the opportunity to find a qualified successor, for the good of Ski Jumping.
We spoke to the FIS Race Director.
Mister Hofer, was it your decision to end your job of FIS Race Director after the 2019/20 winter season, was it a question of age or is there any other reason?
Walter Hofer: "It was exclusively my decision and it's only due to the fact that at this point I will have reached retirement age."
Can you remember your first day as FIS Race Director?
Walter Hofer: "Yes I can. At this point, I have been a member of the coaching staff in Ski Jumping for ten years. Therefore I knew the working environment from a certain perspective. I had the chance to follow Ski Jumping from behind the scenes without having that much responsibility. Back then, the coaches were also members of the jury, but the interests were completely different. It was all about the advantage of your own athletes.
When I then started my job with the FIS, I had to do a lot of homework. Back then we revised the rules and statistics manually. Because of that I could, or had to know all the rules in detail. This was a very important learning process before the competitions. Uncertainty irritates those who have to live with the decisions. Everyone involved has to right to receive accurate information about the circumstances.
All this "homework" was followed by the next steps in order to move Ski jumping in a certain direction. I don't say the right one. Everyone has to judge that for himself. But with the help of our FIS Committees and others, it was possible to lay the foundation for further steps. Towards a better marketing and, with that, a better product. But this is a different story ..."
28 years FIS Race Director. Two more years and then this chapter will be over. What are you thinking right now? What a pity, I would have wanted to continue, there's still a lot left to do, or: Good, there comes a point when it's enough, everything's done.
Walter Hofer: "This question is not relevant to me. Because it's not about me. I met so many people who made a personal decision either too early or too late. I'm not guided by my own wishful thinking. My biographical data is the natural factor here. Nothing more and nothing less."
You have changed a lot in Ski Jumping. What change are you especially proud of?
Walter Hofer: "I did not change a lot, the sub-system of Ski Jumping with all its decision-makers did. Even the FIS Council played an important part in teaching us, in the beginning, to not change certain things to fast, but gradually and in small steps. We also received support for brave suggestions that required a lot of trust from the Council. After all, it's a small but great sport with outstanding athletes. We can be proud of that and also about the fact that we were able to make the Ski Jumping safer."
You are considered a visionary and a man of action. Of all the many innovations, the wind and gate compensation was one of the most spectacular ones. Why is this rule so important and where would Ski Jumping be without it?
Walter Hofer: "I don't know if it's important. I had many sleepless nights because of it. But I'm thankful to all the critics because that's why we were able to create a system out of this fragile and for the spectator totally unclear rules, that made Ski Jumping safer and fairer, in my opinion. The changes of the rules regarding the equipment were of the same importance. Just like the formats and the data service.
Looking back I can say that there was a time when I had to fax the results from a competition in Kuopio (FIN), which was a replacement for a canceled event, to all the news agencies. This was the only window to the public. By the way, the head of this event was Mika Kojonkoski. Today he is a legendary coach and the highest FIS official in Ski Jumping."
Are there any moments that you especially like to think back to?
Walter Hofer: Very nice memories are all the Olympic events I was part of because they were carried out on schedule even in the most difficult conditions. The team competition in Nagano 1998 was a special highlight. It was extremely turbulent and it ended with Masahiko Harada, an Olympic champion moved to tears, standing in the heavy snowfall. Besides the spectacular crash of Hermann Maier this was the picture of the Games."
Are there unpleasant memories?
Walter Hofer: Experience is the sum of the mistakes you make! And I do think that I gained quite a bit of experience."
You once said that the term "Ski Jumping is the Formula 1 of the winter" is unfair. Why?
Walter Hofer: Because it's only strident. There are sports who sell itself: If a soccer team plays 0:0 a couple of times in a row, the team, the coach or maybe the tactics will be criticized. But nobody would think about questioning soccer itself. And then there are niche sports: When one or two Ski Jumping competitions are canceled, the sport is under discussion. This is not good for Ski Jumping. Formula 1 is part of a huge industry, in Ski Jumping not a single part of the competition equipment is a mass product. That's why these two can't be compared."
Walter Hofer and Ski Jumping always fit together somehow. How will Ski Jumping move on after the era of Walter Hofer and who will take over the job, is there already a candidate?
Walter Hofer: "I sure hope so. There are enough potential candidates. Requirements change and have to be adjusted, systems must remain dynamic. And that's how it should be."
With only two winters to go, are you already thinking about how your life will be after the time as Race Director? There will be a lot of spare time all of a sudden.
Walter Hofer: "We are devoting our energy to the upcoming winter season, and there is also the preparation for the World Championships in Seefeld. I just returned from China where we monitor the construction for the Olympic Games in Beijing 2022. So right now I don't think about retirement that much."
Will you stay involved in Ski Jumping in some other position? As an advisor maybe?
Walter Hofer: "I can't answer that at the moment. There are some requests from different fields, also outside of Ski Jumping. But I don't think about such offers just yet."
You are considered a brilliant strategist. Would you consider a career in politics if there is an offer?
Walter Hofer: "If I would say yes, I would not be a brilliant strategist. But I don't have any ambitions in that direction. The sport has been the main part of my life! And will always be, whether in an active or passive form. So: Cobbler, stick to your last!