Olympic gold medallist Tatjana Hüfner reveals how she hopes being an Athlete Role Model (ARM) at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lausanne 2020 will enable her to inspire the next generation of athletes – both in their sporting lives and beyond the field of play.
Germany’s Tatjana Hüfner is one of the most successful lugers in history. After winning a bronze medal at the Olympic Winter Games Turin 2006, she dominated the sport for years, clinching five world singles titles and five successive overall World Cup crowns, as well as climbing to the top of the Olympic podium at Vancouver 2010.
Having added Olympic silver to her collection at Sochi 2014, she came close to a fourth successive Olympic medal at PyeongChang 2018, missing the podium by just 0.69 seconds.
Now aged 36, Hüfner has retired from competition and is eager to share her experiences with the next generation as an ARM at the Winter YOG Lausanne 2020.
How excited are you about being an ARM at Lausanne 2020?
“I am very excited and proud to be an ARM. It is a completely new situation for me, but I’m looking forward to spending some time with the young athletes during the YOG.”
Why did you want to become an ARM?
“I think the YOG are a huge opportunity for the athletes who take part. They can experience so many things that can help them throughout the whole of their sports careers and beyond. Having competed in luge for over 20 years, I have experienced the full spectrum of emotions – from the highs to the lows. Hopefully I can provide the young athletes with some inspiration for being a competitor and for their lives after sport.”
How much did you know about the YOG beforehand?
“I have followed the YOG since [the first Winter YOG in] Innsbruck in 2012, and lots of the young athletes who had the chance to take part have told me about the great experiences they had.”
What do you think of the concept of having ARMs available to offer advice to the young athletes?
“I think it is a great idea from the IOC to use the YOG to connect these young athletes with athletes who already have much more experience. From my own career, I know that a young athlete can learn so much from older athletes.”
Did you have a role model when you were a young athlete?
“When I was a young athlete, I tried to learn from everybody. I think everyone has something that they can do quite well and that you can learn from. The difficulty is analysing what is important and how it can work for you, in your own special situation. So I have learned not only from one, but from many good athletes.”
Would you have liked to have had the chance to compete in the YOG when you were a young athlete?
“Yes, of course. It’s a pity that the YOG didn’t exist when I was young!”
What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?
“That’s a very good question and not easy to answer. I am very happy with my career, and I had many good mentors. Looking back now, I wouldn’t want to change anything in my career. I don’t think it’s good to look into the past and try to change anything. I’m a person who lives in the now and I always look forward; that’s where there are things that I can change.”
What are some of the challenges that these young athletes may encounter in their careers?
“Especially in Lausanne/St Moritz, they have to recognise that there is much more media presence than there used to be. They should try to relax and just be happy about being there, and focus on everything that they have learnt in the last few years to get to this point. Looking further on in their careers, they should always be thinking about what they can do to become better. This should never stop. Especially in luge, there are so many things you can work on – athletically, mentally and mechanically with the sled.”
How did you overcome some of the challenges you faced in your own career?
“I tried to use specialists. So when I had problems with my health, I connected with a neuro-athletic coach and a physiotherapist to try to come back. And then in 2017 I became a two-time world champion again. After my sled mechanic retired, I had problems with my sled. We were a perfect team, and without him I was lost. But I found a sponsor who helped me with the sled, and then I was able to do better again.”
With just over a month until the YOG, what would you say to the young athletes who are currently preparing to compete in Lausanne?
“They should work on the basics and concentrate on the events they are currently competing in. Many of them may still need to qualify for the YOG in the weeks ahead, so that is where their focus should be. For the lugers, they must try to get a feeling about lying on the sled, a feeling of how to work the sled and getting faster and faster at the start is very important.”
What would you say to those young athletes who are looking forward to meeting you in Lausanne and hearing your advice?
“I would say: ‘Come and see me, ask me whatever you want, and I will try to answer everything!’”