felix is back.

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The secret to success in the 2018/2019 World Cup season: “Showing the determination to win in every turn.”

He is back in the race. Felix Neureuther has spent over a year preparing for his comeback. Now Germany’s most successful ski racer is back. And he wants to show that during his time off owing to injury, he has not only healed but also found new ways of shaving off those vital hundredths of a second from his main competitors, Marcel Hirscher and Henrik Kristoffersen.

After tearing a cruciate ligament in November 2017, it wasn’t about hundredths of a second but months instead. How long did it take Felix to adjust to this? “Patience isn’t one of my strengths,” he admits: “But you have to take it in your stride and fight each day to recover faster. If you manage to recuperate quicker than the doctors predicted, that’s a major victory.”

“You have to take injuries in your stride.”

After surgery, every day counts

Just as Felix was once more ready for combat in Finland’s Levi, an unlucky training accident put him back out of action. He broke his thumb, further delaying his comeback. “In the past, this would have hit me harder,” says Felix, who became a dad for the first time in the fall of 2017. “Now I come home and am greeted by my little girl. Then it doesn’t matter at all whether Daddy skis or not.”

Nevertheless, there was, of course, only one goal: To get back on the slope. Do the doctors still pull out all the stops for a broken thumb? Or does this only happen with serious injuries? “Every tool in the box gets used,” says Felix. “A cruciate ligament injury takes time. With a thumb, every day counts. The initial focus is on tissue repair and lymph drainage. Shock wave therapy is used just four days after surgery to make the bone knit as quickly as possible.”

“You always experience moments that stir up something inside you.”

New paths to fresh victories

Felix used his recuperation time to intensively work on his skiing style: “If you watch an entire season on screen, it can be hugely inspirational,” says the 2005 team world champion. “Watching Marcel Hirscher and Henrik Kristoffersen, you could see their determination to win in every turn. I had many discussions with my coaches and worked on optimizing my racing line.”

Is it possible to simply change a skiing style practiced over years? “This is exactly the kind of opportunity that an extended break can offer! You’re not performing familiar movement patterns for extended periods of time. This gives you the chance to iron out errors and re-calibrate your body from head to toe. Over the course of a career, you always experience moments that stir up something inside you and propel you forward. Even when you’re injured.”

“The vital hundredths of a second go to whoever works hardest for them.”

Fractions of a second

Felix Neureuther has won 13 World Cup races, and come second or third on 34 occasions. Time and again, victory or ‘merely’ a podium finish were determined by hundredths of a second. Are these tiny differences ever frustrating? Like in 2014 in Schladming, when Felix missed out on the Crystal Ball for victory in the Slalom World Cup by a single hundredth of a second?

“Of course, a crucial hundredth of a second like that one can really get under your skin! But to be honest, it’s not that important to me anymore. That one hundredth of a second doesn’t make me a different person. You just have to accept that the other person was simply better that day. Hundredths of a second are both a blessing and a curse, and deservedly so in most instances! And those vital hundredths of a second ultimately go to whoever works hardest for them.”

“It’s about what you do for others.”

Felix Neureuther on Alberto Tomba, his career, and the future

Felix, fate has pitted you against Marcel Hirscher, one of the best racers of all time. Has he been a key factor in spurring you on? Or would you have preferred life without Marcel?
I am very grateful that I was able to race against him. Without him I would never have reached my current level. And to beat him more often, all I really had to do was ski faster than him. If you were faster than Marcel, then you knew without a doubt that you’d really earned your victory.

With 13 World Cup victories to your name, you are Germany’s most successful ski racer. Are you satisfied with your achievements? Or hungry for more?
My 13 World Cup victories aren’t really that amazing. Many racers achieve more. I should have had more wins, and I’m aware of that. However, I’m still satisfied. I continue to live my dream of being a professional ski racer. It’s something many people dream of. Also, it’s not the number of victories that matters. In 20 or 30 years’ time, I won’t think I’m this amazing guy because I won a certain number of races.

So what does matter?
It’s about the special moments in life. I can see it with my parents. When they meet old colleagues, it’s completely irrelevant who won what. Everyone is equal. They are all former ski racers who become helpless with laughter when they share their stories from back in the day.

Your career will end one day. What will you turn your hand to then?
My foundation for motivating kids to get more exercise is very important to me. As an athlete, you can do a lot not just for yourself, but others too. It’s not about World Cup victories. It’s about what you do for others.

The same way Alberto Tomba did a lot for you?
He was my big idol and gave me a lot of motivation and energy.

And – rumor has it – a chewing gum, which you refused to get rid of...
That was in my dad’s car when he drove Alberto to the airport. I was a very small boy and could only speak German, but we still managed to communicate. He fooled around during the whole drive, it was hilarious. And at the end, he gave me this chewing gum. Alberto Tomba was my hero. It’s thanks to him that I know how important it is for kids to have role models in order to set themselves goals – and achieve them one day.

A profile of Felix Neureuther

Felix Neureuther was born in Munich on March 26, 1984. The son of Rosi Mittermaier and Christian Neureuther, both former ski racers, he won his first World Cup points in 2003 when he took eighth place in the slalom at Madonna di Campiglio. In 2005, he won team gold at the World Cup in Bormio. Between 2013 and 2017, he won one World Cup silver medal and two World Cup bronze medals in slalom. He achieved a podium finish in 47 World Cup races and celebrated 13 victories. Felix Neureuther is married to biathlete Miriam Neureuther (née Gössner), with whom he had a daughter in October 2017.

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