Out of the start house and you’re on the run itself. The camera run just before a ski race always gives me goosebumps as it allows me to take part in the race myself. The images shown give you an idea of what it feels like to be a ski racer and at what speed he whizzes down the slope. How these exciting images come about and how much effort is involved, we’re about to learn from the ex-ski racer from St. Johann Joachim Puchner, who is the new camera skier from this winter season in ORF (Austrian TV).
As Joachim is in his “Covid-bubble“, we agreed to an online interview. And later you’ll also find out all about “Covid-bubbles“ on the ski racing circuit.
How did your new job come about and how was the handover from Hans Knauss as ORF cameraman?
Joachim Puchner: “After Hans Knauss announced his resignation as active cameraman at the end of last season in Kvitfjell, we (ORF and myself) got together and talked about the possibility of a new assignment. From the outset I was keen to take over this role from Hans and undertake this enviable task. The conditions during the pandemic are not exactly great, however, I was able to start my new function in Sölden mid-October
How intensive was your training in preparation for the season?
“I ended my active career 3 years ago. As a sportsman I’m used to keeping my body in an optimum condition as far as I’m able and the circumstances allow. That was no different. However, you have to plan extra “sessions“ for this challenge. The strain on your body is tremendous and without specific training you would be taking a huge risk.“
Does the job require around the same amount of training as an active ski racer?
“Of course, it can’t be compared with the training plan of an active ski racer. However, you should possess a certain level of physical fitness, as we’re talking about downhill and Super-G races, which can be definitely classed as risk sports. To be able to master tricky situations, which are inevitable as camera skier, it’s certainly to your advantage if you stand at the start warmed-up and well trained. However, it can’t really be compared to the amount of training I undertook during my active career.“
The preparation is similar to what you were used as a ski racer (training run a must, slope inspection etc.)?
“Yes, more or less. I prepare myself – just like an active sportsman. Slope inspection and training runs are indispensable for my camera runs. An assessment of the conditions and the expected speeds can only be undertaken with professional preparation.“
Are your impressions of the run on race day passed on to the trainers/athletes? To other nations too?
“In the first instance I try to collect sentiments and self-evaluations of the runs from the active athletes for my reporting. In practice, I also turn to my former colleagues from other nations. Most interesting, of course, is the information from the fastest in training and TOP athletes, such as Beat Feuz or Matthias “Mottl“ Mayer. Due to the fact that I ski down wearing “normal“ ski clothing, my speeds are naturally slower than those of the professionals. Despite this, the racers and the trainers watch my runs, as I am generally the first person to head down the run. Are, for example, certain passages narrow or, as in the “Zielsprung“ in Kitzbühel go wide, then the athletes and trainers know that they will absolve these parts at even higher speeds, and accordingly they should be more careful. However, I hold off with tips for my former colleagues.“
Just skiing down alpine World Cup circuit runs requires a lot of skill, and to commentate at the same time is an additional challenge. Do you train commentating too?
“You’ll laugh, but before my first job in Sölden, I was on the Kitzsteinhorn getting used to racing skis again. Hans Knauss skied all runs and disciplines with the corresponding equipment, such as downhill skis, Super-G skis and also giant slalom and slalom skis. I gladly took on this tip. Afterwards I tried to commentate my impressions whilst free skiing. As chance would have it, I met Alexandra Meissnitzer (also ORF co-commentator) on the Kitzsteinhorn and I asked for her opinion. She advised me to practice commentating between the poles, commentating whilst free skiing is a waste of time. And therefore, I asked a former trainer on the Kitz, whether I could commentate a few runs which were set up for young skiers.
At first, I found it difficult, but as with anything in life “you grow with the task”. You can of course compose something beforehand on certain runs – despite this I’m determined to commentate honestly by way of my own emotions.”
Are there guidelines set by the ORF?
“Not really – I of course collaborate with the ORF commentators Oliver Polzer and Hans Knauss and even Armin Assinger and set great store by reporting authentically and thus deliver my experiences and impressions during the run via TV to the many households of our TV viewers. At the very beginning it was very important to me, how I “come across“. That’s why it’s always best to talk as naturally as possible!“
Are you not allowed to say certain things (I mean special expletives) 😊?
“Sometimes your emotions can run away with you and certain expletives slip out. If I’m too far away from the optimum line, it can happen that certain words, that are not normally heard on TV, slip out. If that happened from the top to the bottom of the run, it would of course be counterproductive – the principle here is “the dose makes the poison“.
In Kitzbühel you were approx. 10/15 sec. behind the best time – do you also ski the “battle line“?
“My primary task is to give the viewers a look at the run and to convey the current conditions. My goal is not to compete with the times of the top skiers. Having said that, I try to find the optimum and fastest line for me, to stay compact on the jumps, and at the same time to describe interesting impressions live and to conquer the run in as much as a race mode as possible.“
Does the technical equipment bother you – or are you restricted when skiing?
“I have absolutely no problem and the helmet camera doesn’t restrict me in any way at all. In days gone by, Hans Knauss skied with a hand camera – so I’m glad that nowadays this is fixed to my helmet and I can ski using 2 poles.“
How long can a trained sportsman carry out this strenuous task – until what age?
“That’s a good question and surely individual for each sportsman. Hannes Reichelt and the Frenchman Johann Clarey are both over 40 and are still competing against the fastest. The strain in this top sport segment is enormous and a lot takes place in your head. Am I ready as sportsman, and that applies to the pre-season preparation too, to give my all and more to incur these strains? With increasing age routine and experience is added, despite this you need to get “horsepower” on the run.
The equipment and the piste preparation demand lots of strength and physical condition for young sportsmen and that’s no different when you’re older. If you don’t stay on top of the game, it could easily get dangerous – particularly in the speed disciplines. In that case, it’s surely a wise – not always an easy – decision, to look for another field of activity.“
You’re probably also in a sort of “bubble“ due to Covid precautions?
“Generally speaking, we are enjoying an exceptional privilege in these strange times. We are allowed to practice our sport on the international stage. For many professional fields this is simply not possible at the moment. But basically, the FIS and the ÖSV (Austrian Ski Assoc.) follow a strict safety concept that has proved its worth and so far, there have been no major incidents. We keep to our assigned “bubbles“ and are subject to constant testing and checks. For example, Kitzbühel is known for its side events in “normal“ years. This year there was a curfew set for everyone at 7.00 pm and this was adhered to 100%. In addition, there are local precautions too and we all hope that we can finish this season without incident.“
And finally – your next assignment?
“The Ski-World Championships in Cortina were a real highlight for me, now I’m concentrating on the next races!“
Joachim, thank you very much for your time and I wish you all the best and many, many more TV appearances!
Bildnachweis: Tourismusverband St. Johann in Salzburg