Stefan Kraft: the ski jumper supremo so good there are two of him
With such an accomplished resumé there can be little doubt that Austria’s ski jumping ace is a master of his craft but the FC Bayern Munich fan works hard at staying humble and even harder at fulfilling his Olympic dream.
One the most decorated athletes ever in his sport, the 28-year-old has twice won both the Ski Jumping World Cup and Ski Flying World Cup, claimed the renowned Four Hills Tournament title and holds three individual World Championship gold medals.
He even has the world record for the longest ski flying jump ever, launching himself an eye-watering 253.5 metres (832ft) on the hill in Vikersund, Norway back in 2017.
Kraft’s titles are no doubt the envy of his rivals, who are certainly a competitive bunch: Kamil Stoch, Markus Eisenbichler, Karl Geiger and Halvor Egner Granerud are just some of the names doing battle with the Austrian week-in and week-out in on the World Cup circuit.
There is, however, one prize that will forever set Kraft apart from his peers no matter how hard they try and that is the official Madam Tussaud’s waxwork of the ski jumper that lovingly resides in the Vienna Prater.
The statue, which was unveiled earlier this year is the first created in the honour of a ski jumper and it received full marks from the man himself: “It’s just an incredibly cool feeling and a great honour that I am now immortalised as a wax figure,” said Kraft on the statue’s public debut.
“The figure has turned out really great and looks incredibly realistic – it’s almost a bit weird when I’m sitting right next to my ‘twin’.”
Stefan Kraft: number one fan of flying and football
Football or skiing?
That was the question bothering Kraft in his early years. The boy, born and bred in Schwarzach had always been drawn to sport; it was just a matter of deciding which one.
It came then as something of surprise that the sport he would go on to relentlessly pursue to the highest heights and the longest leaps was neither football nor skiing, and that he owes to his childhood best friend Christian Reiter.
One day Kraft watched his companion take to the skies in a ski jumping competition.
Dissatisfied with just watching from the side-lines the Austrian decided to give it a go himself and like many of his peers, soon found himself hooked on a flying feeling he couldn’t replicate anywhere else.
It wasn’t long before the world record holder quickly rose through the ranks of ski jumping. He joined the World Cup circuit in the 2011/12 season and just three short years later he would finish the overall 2014/15 season in third place and win the Four Hills Tournament overall title.
Though ski jumping may have eventually won out over football the Austrian has by no means ended his love affair with the sport, especially when it comes to supporting his favourite team FC Bayern Munich.
And it appears the feeling is mutual - in 2016 the club honoured the ski jumper when he became its 2100th member.
Stefan Kraft: The high-flyer staying grounded
Achieving so much so early, while exciting for a young athlete, can also be unsettling and no one understands that feeling better than Kraft.
It’s why the ski jumper has laid great emphasis on humility even as the successes continue to roll in.
As far back as 2017 the Austrian made clear that staying true to himself was always to be a priority throughout his career no matter what: “What I expect from myself and what I always work on too is that I hope to stay the way I am” a 24-year-old Kraft once said to Discover Germany. “This has been very important to me from the very start and has been my overarching aim.”
Staying true to his word it remains easy to spot the ski jumper’s modesty even in the face of his biggest conquests.
An entry in Kraft’s personal blog from March 2020, recorded just after he won his second overall World Cup victory, reveals his surprise at having claimed the honour for a second time:
“After my first Overall World Cup victory I thought, you have to enjoy the moment now because who knows if this ever happens again. It is unbelievable that this now happened again.”
“To the outside, it may look a bit easier than it actually is,” Kraft added. “I had some doubts about myself because my jumps did not work out as I wanted to… now it is even more beautiful, that everything worked out so well.”
Stefan Kraft: Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic challenge
Of all the things Kraft has stamped his authority over, there remains one goal the Austrian has yet to reach, and that is winning an Olympic medal.
At the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang the three-time World Champion came up surprisingly short in both the individual normal hill (13th) and large hill competition (18th). He then suffered another blow when the Austrians finished the large hill team battle in fourth, painfully outside the medal zone.
Speaking to Webtalkshow about the Olympics and specifically the Games in South Korea Kraft explained why he did not meet expectations: "At the 2018 Olympics maybe I wanted the medal too much. These two weeks were tough as I missed out on a medal."
Having now clocked that valuable Games experience the two-time World Cup winner, who has been struggling with a back injury in recent times, admits he is focused on ensuring he is physically prepared for Beijing 2022 even if that might mean putting his future plans on hold:
"I have been thinking about what I could do after my career. I would be interested in studying nutrition, sport, physical therapy," the ski jumper continued. "But now the Olympics are right in front of me and I have decided to not study this Olympic season."
Can Kraft draw on all his winning experience and obtain the one thing missing from his prize collection? Austria, and Kraft's 115,000 Instagram followers, will certainly be hoping so.
Whatever may unfold in the Chinese capital Kraft will always have one thing over and above all other ski jumpers, including even the famed Eddie the Eagle, and that is his beautiful waxwork model.