How can you package the heavily inflated weekend in Kitzbühel in a few words? Phew, says Romed Baumann, he lets the midday sun shine on his tinted glasses in the Kitzbühel finish area. How about that, he finally says: “There is nothing better.” Nothing better?
The 35-year-old starts a short run through the red-white-red alpine condition; Baumann grew up in Hochfilzen, half an hour’s drive from Kitzbühel, as a boy he hardly missed a race, at 20 he made his debut on the fully fledged Streif. He loves the “Halligalli” here, how the drivers have to meander through the spectators behind the finish area, and of course the descent, the curves, the compressions and the jumps: “If you drive here, you risk your career,” says Baumann. But if the cheering of the thousands of fans at the award ceremony in the evening has only reached you once, as he experienced in 2012, after his second place in the downhill …
For a skiing nation like Austria there is nothing better than a victory in Kitzbühel, even without spectators and Halligalli, and there is probably only one thing that hurts you more than a winner who does not come from Austria: an Austrian who is German.
The Piefke’s zebra is currently galloping fast again through the winter
Baumann’s story already wandered through the media last winter: he was one of the reliable forces in the Austrian Ski Association (ÖSV) for 15 years, 303 starts in the highest league of alpine sports meanwhile, two wins, ten podiums, World Cup bronze 2013 in the Combination. Two years ago he left the Streif after the training “like a gschlogner dog”, he was so overwhelmed, the “low point of my career”, says Baumann today. Too old and no longer good enough, they judged coolly in the ÖSV. Baumann was at first a little at a loss, then the ski racer, who is married to a German woman, joined the German Ski Association. “Piefke-Zebra” was their headline in Austria, based on the DSV racing suits and the warm affection for their big neighbors, eh kloar.
What is new is that the Piefke zebra is currently galloping briskly through the winter, in its second or third spring. Last winter was already a little wellness cure for self-confidence, with the better results came better start numbers, which in turn gave him better starting positions in the races, and so on. This season he is even the best German high-speed driver, alongside Andreas Sander and in the absence of Thomas Dreßen, who is still quietly hoping to participate in the World Cup after his hip operation. Baumann was ninth, eighth and 14th in the downhill runs, seventh in Bormio in the curvier Super-G, and now? “The podium is already the goal,” he said on Thursday in Kitzbühel, not much has separated him from the very best recently. And his favorite run is only just coming, this time even on Friday and Saturday, because they are catching up on a run that was originally planned in Wengen. “A huge deal,” he thinks.
Baumann’s story is one of those stories, according to which you always have a chance in the eerily beautiful downhill sport; it is also a narrative about the power of the collective. He came from a large selection, in which the drivers quickly become national heroes, but often also lone fighters, to a small team in which they appreciate the large community. Those who make their teammates stronger also strengthen themselves sooner or later, according to the calculation. In the DSV, nobody has to fear that the team mate to whom you reveal the secret for the steep slope exit will punch you out of the squad the next day when four drivers quarrel about two starting positions for the race in the last practice session. This “slaughter”, says Baumann, has often worn him down in the last few years in the ÖSV, which he is now spared. To the envy of many old companions.
And then, says Baumann, there was this “aha experience” last year: back in Kitzbühel, a return after the shame of two years ago, in a zebra outfit for the first time. Some of the audience that was still large at that time threw “Judas” shouts at him, which then spurred him on, he said. Baumann was seventh in the downhill race, and since then, he says today, he thinks he’s ready for a podium visit again.
At Baumann you can feel the quiet satisfaction
On Thursday, during the second training run, which they of course broadcast live on the first Austrian television, ski expert Armin Assinger said to commentator Oliver Polzer: “Yeah, yesterday already four Germans among the top twelve!”
“Well, three and a half Germans,” countered Polzer, looking at Baumann.
“Good,” says Assinger, “you can say: He learned it from us!”
Baumann usually smiles away such episodes in a friendly way, but you can already feel the quiet satisfaction that envelops him. When the DSV accepted him, Baumann says, he also wanted to give something back: Small trade secrets about the material, including tips for the descents, which the drivers often take years to master. Baumann, enthuses Thomas Dreßen, has an extraordinary feeling for every slope, “he knows very well: This is a key point, you have to take this passage with less risk”. Not only Dreßen benefited from it recently, also Simon Jocher, 24, who is spending his first full winter on tour this winter. In Bormio, all six German starters were among the top 30 recently.
Romed, asked the Austrian reporters in the finish area on Thursday, should you be the best Austrian on the Streif – that would go down like oil, wouldn’t it?
Baumann smiles, he doesn’t answer the question directly. But the smile says it all. There couldn’t be much better.