Despite his young age, Marco Odermatt is already considered a star in the Swiss alpine skiing team.
After a successful junior career, the 23-year-old Buochs native has continued to impress against the best skiers ini the world in the senior ranks.
He secured two World Cup podiums in 2018/19, before adding another two in 2019/20 (including his first win at the Super G in Beaver Creek, Colorado), and finished second in this season's opening event in Soelden, Austria.
The image of him at the bottom of the Rettenbach glacier, standing alongside another enfant prodige in Norway's Lucas Braathen on the podium, represented the birth of a new generation in professional skiing.
The Giant Slalom and Super G specialist grew up idolising Nagano 1998 silver medallist Didier Cuche ("All my childhood, it was just Didier Cuche. I watched every race, I counted every points and I made a list with all his results, each presentation in school was about Didier Cuche," he revealed), and now he's ready to contribute to the country's superlative skiing history.
It has been 10 years since the last Swiss man won the overall World Cup in downhill Olympic champion Carlo Janka, so can Odermatt follow in his footsteps?
After missing the Parallel Slalom event in Lech due to a positive COVID-19 test two weeks ago, but the Swiss prodigy is now fit to race over the weekend in the two GS events in Santa Caterina Valfurva, Italy.
You can read our full interview with Odermatt below. Some parts have been shortened and edited for clarity purposes.
Olympic Channel: This alpine season is unprecedented due to the Covid restrictions. How different does it feel racing behind closed doors?
Marco Odermatt: If you take Soelden, it was quite different from the other years. I think if you achieve a good result, it's a shame because you can't really celebrate. There are way less emotions, no fans that are cheering for you, it's sad. On the other hand, with no fans on the mountains and very few media, things around the race are simpler and you can just show how good you are at skiing. So you can concentrate on yourself and I think that's the positive.
OC: You finished second in your season debut at Soelden, which was your 5th podium in World Cup. How special did it feel?
MO: It was the perfect start and was really special for two reasons. First, because it was the first time I could share the podium with a Swiss teammate, with Gino (Caviezel), he's a really good friend of mine. Secondly, being on the podium at the very first race of the season makes everything easier for the next races.
OC: How strong do you feel compared to last year?
MO: I think a little stronger, but not that much. I could also ski really fast last season. I didn't manage to complete all the races, but now I'm probably a little bit more consistent. Now I don't make too many mistakes. So I think this will be key for the season.
Looking up to Hirscher
MO: You always look up to the best skiers and try to improve or change some stuff they do better than yourself. So for sure, we watched some videos from Marcel (Hirscher) and also from other athletes. And it's not like we are trying to copy him or something like this. But for sure, he did something special. So we try to find our own way, but still try to do some little things like him.
OC: Why was he the best?
MO: He made nearly no mistakes. He still risked a lot, especially in the second runs. He could attack and stay on the line all the time, he always could keep himself centered on his skis. And even if he was off balance, he could manage to pull himself back up and make a quick turn. So, yeah, he just did everything really well.
OC: How happy are you with your development?
MO: I am very happy. I never expected that I could aim for the podium or even for a victory at my age, so a dream came through in the last couple of years. But for sure, if you're on this level now, you still want to improve and get better and better. And that's why we are working every day to stay on this level or even improve a little bit.
OC: It was symbolic having you and Lucas Braathen on the podium in Soelden. What do you have in common with him?
MO: I think we are quite different, but I think he's just an incredible skier, he has good technique, good materials, he’s young. He learned to just ski for himself, always in full attack like I do. He doesn't think too much and he just wants to ski fast.
'I like to ski with my friends'
OC: What are the main factors behind your improvement?
MO: I have some talent, but we have also had a really good team for the last four or five years. We've been more or less in the same group, same coaches, same athletes with Gino (Caviezel), Loic (Meillard), Justin (Murisier) and Thomas (Tumler). We are pushing each other in training each day, trying to do better if someone is faster. In the evening we analyse, 'Why was he faster? What can I change?’ So, we just take it step by step and now we are nearly at the top of the world. I think especially in our giant slalom group, we are really good friends. All of us, and we help each other when someone needs it. And we don't have secrets, I guess.
I think we are in an individual sport, but I really like the team play, I like to ski with my friends.
"I couldn't have a private team as Marcel or Kristofferssen do. I think it wouldn't suit me." - Marco Odermatt
I like to have good company, have fun on the piste, but also off the piste. You can't ski 24 hours a day. You can't think about skiing 24 hours a day. So there are still some hours you can do something different. And so I really enjoy this time as well.
OC: You come from a scenic area of Switzerland and it seems like you enjoy spending time in the nature, how does it help you?
MO: Yeah, it helps me a lot. I live in a beautiful, wonderful place. I have everything I need there, the lake, mountains, the nature... I don't think there are any sports I can't do in my home region. It's just nice to have some other things in my mind and do something totally different. I don't look at it as a training session, so for me it's more about fun, doing something my friends out into the nature.
'The Crystal globe? You never know...'
OC: What are the next steps in your development process?
MO: Now I'm in the top group in GS, I'm in the top seven, and also in Super G I'm in the top ten, in the first starting group. So as soon as you reach that group, that means you are able to ski for the podium or even for a victory. I hope to be on the podium as much as possible.
That's for sure the big goal. Last year I could stand on the podium twice. And now after the first race, I made my first podium. So I will try to show my best skiing in nearly each race. And that's the big hope.
OC: After six junior titles, how focused are you on winning your first medal at the senior world champs next February in Cortina?
MO: I think the whole Swiss team is ready for the world champs, but I guess especially for me, it's not just the world championship that counts this season. Each World Cup race is nearly as important as the world championships for me, because you can win a race and you can win some points with good the results. So I think it doesn't really matter which race it is, but because once the world champs are coming close maybe I will talk a little bit differently.
OC: What does it take for someone like you to win an overall cup?
MO: As soon as you are competing in two or three or even more disciplines and you're skiing well, some journalists are talking about the overall globe, that's for sure a big goal for me in the future, but I guess not this season. But, yeah, you never know!
But first, you have to win races. You have to win many races or even stand on the podium in nearly each race. So it's still a big step, but I will try my best.