Crowned Olympic champion in the super combined in 2014 in Sochi 2014 after an incredible recovery, Sandro Viletta is today a coach who is very happy to see the Games back in Switzerland at last. At Lausanne 2020, he will be an attentive athlete role model ready to help young skiers from all over the world.
On 14 February 2014 in Sochi, you became Olympic super combined champion despite finishing 14th in the downhill. Tell us about it…
That was a very special day. In the downhill, I skied well on the top and middle sections, but I made a mistake towards the bottom which cost me time. At first I thought that this was just too big an error. But being 14th meant I was still in with a chance, even though I was up against very good skiers like Alexis Pinturault, Ivica Kostelic or Ted Ligety. In Sochi, I was in great shape for the slalom, and the snow was soft. I love conditions like that. They’d salted the track because of the heat, and I knew I was fast in situations like that.
The slalom course was designed by Ante Kostelic, a very technical course that I liked a lot. I said to myself OK, it’s not over, I’m going to chance everything. I skied the race of my life. There were 16 racers after me. I knew I’d skied a great leg, but that was such a long wait! I knew I was faster in the slalom than the downhill specialists who were yet to go, but there were still three or four guys who could beat me. They were all slower than me, so I won the gold medal.
You said that this was a very special day: why?
14 February 2014 was a great day for Switzerland and for our Engadin valley in the Grisons, with Dario Cologna winning the 15km classic in the cross country, and Selina Gasparin’s silver medal in the biathlon individual event. We all live within 30km of each other and all speak Romansch. That was the best day of my life.
You recently gave up competitive skiing…
I ended my career as I had too many injuries between 2016 and 2018; my body wasn’t responding properly and I’d lost my confidence at the age of 33. I felt that was enough. I always wanted to become a coach; I’d always been interested by that aspect of things, how to ski and physical training. So that’s what I’m doing now, and it’s perfect.
The YOG Lausanne 2020 are approaching. How do you feel about that?
It’s great. Also because the Game are in Switzerland, and it’s a long time since we organised an Olympic event – not since the 1948 Winter Games in St Moritz in fact! And we’re happy to welcome these young Olympians today. In 2003, I was at the European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) in Bled in Slovenia, the first big international event I’d taken part in, and that was fantastic. When I heard that the YOG 2020 would be in Lausanne, I was really happy, as I know that this is a really important moment for a young athlete. I’m so happy that they’re taking place in my country!
How did you become an athlete role model for these YOG?
The people at the FIS (International Ski Federation) told me they were looking for someone in Alpine skiing to serve as an athlete role model, and they asked me if I would be interested. I said yes straightaway. It’s an important role to play, as I know since my experience in 2003 that it’s a special moment for an athlete, and I want to support them, pass on my experience, give them advice. I think it’s very important to give back to sport what sport has given me. I had so many emotions and great days when I was skiing, and now I can do something good based on what I’ve experienced.
Did you have a role model when you were younger?
Yes, I was inspired by the great Swiss giant slalom specialist, Michael Von Grünigen, who won 23 giant slalom events in the World Cup and was twice world champion (1997 and 2001). He was my idol when I was a young skier. And I was lucky enough to meet him for the first time at the national championships held close to my village in 1991. A great memory. But I was too shy to ask him for advice!
How do you see your role at Lausanne 2020?
I haven’t thought too much about it for the moment. We’ll see with the Organising Committee. I’m currently training a young Chinese skier, Yi Xiaoyang. He’s dreaming of taking part in the YOG in Lausanne, and we’ll know soon whether he can go or not. It would be really great if he could! Also, the young athletes will spend the time between races at the Olympic Village, where I can tell them about my Olympic experience, from my youth at the EYOF to the Winter Games themselves. I think the YOG are a very special event which is different from the world championships. It’s the first time they’ll see the Village, which is good for them, as once they get to the Olympic Games, they’ll already have had this experience. And it’s not very different, either, as at the Village, you don’t have your family or friends of the media or fans, it’s just the athletes and their entourage. And experiencing that will be a great help to them for the future.
What is your message for the young athletes?
Give it all you’ve got and take full advantage of the YOG! Do exactly the same as you do each day in training, don’t try anything special. Ski as best you can, and everything will be fine.