Downright. Atomic all star Benjamin Raich has almost won all that there is to win. Two Olympic gold medals, three world champion titles, the overall world cup, 36 world cup races. Just recently, almost exactly one year after the cruciate ligament rupture, he won his first Super-G in Crans Montana. Atomic interviewed Raich on the day after his 34th birthday in Kvitfjell. It was 5834 days after the world cup career of an exceptional athlete began here in Norway.
ATOMIC: Belated birthday wishes. You did not have a lot of time to celebrate, right?
BENJAMIN RAICH: Thank you. Yes, that’s true. I was on the plane to Oslo. But on the day before my departure I celebrated with my family in advance. We had some coffee and cake. That’s how I like it best.
ATOMIC: Do you still remember where you were on the 10th of March 1996 - that was 16 years ago?
RAICH: Yes, I was also in Norway, just a few kilometers away from here, in Hafjell where I participated in a slalom race. That was my big aim in that year. The Junior World Champion title was a great thing, but it was even more important to take part in the World Cup. It was just ingenious to race with Tomba, Sykora and Stangassinger, who was my roommate, and to watch the best athletes of the world do their job. In the first run, I was quite good and daring. But unfortunately I straddled a gate close to the finish.
ATOMIC: Your exceptional career then started two seasons later when you won in Schladming in front of a crowd of 50,000 people when you improved from 23rd place to 1st. Did you know back then what was ahead of you?
RAICH: I can exactly recall this race. Despite the place I was only 1.2 seconds behind after the first run and when I was on my way up in the cable car I knew that I could win if I raced well. Today no one really believes this story, but back then I decided to win. I knew what it would be like to celebrate my first victory in front of such a crowd and all the journalists and media representatives. It was at this point when I decided to consistently pursue all my goals in skiing without doubt. This deliberate decision for a career in professional skiing with all its ups and downs has always paid off for me as a person.
ATOMIC: After many successes it was at the World Ski Championships in Garmisch last year that you injured yourself badly for the first time in your career. How satisfied are you with your comeback season so far?
RAICH: The injury was something new to me, thank goodness. I learnt a lot and tried to make the best out of it. Ever since I went to school (a high school with a special focus on skiing in Stams) I had always been at full throttle. The injury forced me to take a break and stop. I had time to think a lot: Where do I want to go, where have I come so far? I wouldn’t want to do without this experience. I changed certain things about my material and my body. It was important to remain patient and to work on my self-assurance in regards to my skiing technique. So far it has been a season of transition, but it is developing well and towards the right direction. The victory of the super-G has been the highlight so far.
ATOMIC: What is driving and pushing you? A first downhill victory?
RAICH: Enthusiasm is driving me. If you lose it, you can’t be good anymore. It goes without saying that the right preconditions help you reaching your aims. But if you want to win you have to be willing to compare yourself and to take this challenge. I love the training, the way to get to this point, all of it. It is still fun, that’s why I am still around and still have goals. I’m not running out of them. And one goal definitely is a victory in downhill. Considering my results and how far behind I am, it doesn’t seem very likely at the moment, but in the preparations for the next season I will focus on downhill. The new sidecut might be of help in this case, as everyone basically has to deal with new material conditions and we all start from the same point.
ATOMIC: You used to ski with slalom skis that were 193 centimeters long. How difficult will it be to adapt to the new sidecuts in the next seasons?
RAICH: Changes in material are never easy. But if I’m reluctant and keep whining about how I don’t like it and don’t want to do it, then I’ve already lost. I always try to be open for new things and to give them a try. There were drastic changes, like when we suddenly raced on skis that were 155 centimeters long. It’s important to be flexible, professional skiing requires flexibility, and that’s also what life does from every single person. Life in general means chance for me.
ATOMIC: There is one thing that has never changed – you have always used ATOMIC. Why?
RAICH: ATOMIC has accompanied me ever since I was Children’s Champion in Tyrol. The cooperation with the people of the company has grown and developed naturally. I feel closely connected to ATOMIC because they’ve always worked well. Racers, developers, ski-techs, ski constructors, test racers – so many experts all together work for a common goal. I’ve always felt the enthusiasm and the will for improvement with ATOMIC. Whenever it didn’t run smoothly, something was done. That is why I’ve never used a different ski. By now, all my equipment is by ATOMIC – helmet, goggles, boots, binding, all of it. I share an aim with ATOMIC, and it has been the same for a long time: we want to be the best.