Flocke in Oberhof
Andreas Schlütter_Sportlicher Leiter Skilanglauf des DSV_Foto Christian Heilwagen
Andreas Schlütter_Sportlicher Leiter Skilanglauf des DSV_Foto Christian Heilwagen

"The anticipation in the team is huge"

The countdown to the Coop FIS Cross-Country World Cup Oberhof (19 - 21.01.2024) is on: In this interview, Andreas Schlütter, Sports Director Cross-Country Skiing of the German Ski Association (DSV), looks back on a remarkable start to the season, the World Cup return to the Thuringian Forest and the challenges and opportunities for the "cross-country skiing family", which will be a particular focus in Oberhof.

Mr. Schlütter, four weeks of Scandinavia lie behind the German cross-country skiing elite. The first exhausting World Cup block was undoubtedly crowned by Victoria Carl, who ensured a historic German World Cup victory with her first. How satisfied is sports director Andreas Schlütter with the start to the season?

Before the start of the World Cup, we completed our last training camp in Munio (Finland) and therefore also in the far north. This marks the end of a very exhausting but also very successful first World Cup block for us. In short: the start of the season was fantastic. Vici's results and not least the sensational World Cup success naturally stand out. Looking through the Thuringian glasses, Katherine Sauerbrey and Lisa Lohmann also improved from race to race, although there is still room for improvement. Also noteworthy were the performances of newcomer Helen Hofmann, who once again scored World Cup points with a strong performance. Our athletes have well and truly earned their short Christmas break before the Tour de Ski continues immediately after the festive season.

From January 19 - 21, 2024, Oberhof will now also appear on the World Cup calendar for cross-country skiers. How much anticipation is there?

The anticipation in the team is huge, especially as there is the option for up to seven Thuringian athletes to compete at the home World Cup. We start with the sprint races in the classic technique on Friday. This will be followed on Saturday by two long mass start races in the classic technique on a very demanding course, before the relay races on Sunday will hopefully be the crowning finale. The U23 athletes are also eagerly awaiting a possible start. Overall, the atmosphere is really good and we are grateful that we have the chance to host the World Cup in Oberhof.

The LOTTO Thüringen ARENA on the Rennsteig was extensively renovated and modernized in the run-up to the Biathlon World Championships. What was particularly important in the course of the World Cup preparations from the point of view of the DSV and the FIS?

Spectators and fans can look forward to an extensive program. You should definitely take the opportunity to watch the races live on site. The formats guarantee exciting races. In addition, there is not only an appealing supporting program, but also a FIS Snow Kids Parcours for the little ones as well as the  Deutsche Schülercup, which also allows the next generations to come into contact with the world elite.

The topic of sustainability also plays a very important role in the DSV and in the cross-country skiing camp. What approaches are being pursued with regard to the Oberhof Cross-Country World Cup?

The issue of sustainability is hugely important in cross-country skiing. Among other things, the FIS has created a so-called block calendar in order to limit and minimize travel as much as possible. After the first block in Scandinavia, the central European block begins with the Tour de Ski, which also includes Oberhof. Unnecessary travel is thus avoided. In addition, great importance is attached to implementing the respective concepts of the venues, as practiced in Oberhof.

The big cross-country skiing weekend in September - which is the central performance test for all facets of cross-country skiing - impressively demonstrated that the "cross-country skiing family" is growing. What makes cross-country skiing so special?

With the fall performance control in Oberhof, we have already brought together the cross-country skiing family - i.e. elite and popular sports - for several years now. This is clearly also our goal for the World Cup. Anyone who can run can strap on their skis and pick up their poles. You definitely don't have to be a professional to get that good feeling after a running session.

Of course, the focus at Grenzadler is on the elite. But they have also come up with something special for the next generation...

That's right. The FIS Coop Mini World Cup was an idea that matured in the coaching team when we started to structure the World Cup. It's an absolute first to give young athletes the chance to take part in two competitions as part of a World Cup. There will be a single start race on Saturday and the so-called technical course on Sunday. We have blocked off an area in the stadium especially for the competitions - so this event should be an absolute highlight for the youngsters and their families. It will also give the ski clubs the chance to take the next step in developing young talent and to showcase the opportunities and processes involved in competitive sport. Offers for children to get them away from the display and into exercise are and will become increasingly important.

Volunteering will also play an important role at the Coop FIS Cross-Country World Cup Oberhof. How important are the hard-working volunteers in the Thuringian ski clubs?

Without volunteers, an event like this would not be feasible, simply not possible. I was impressed by how united the Thuringian associations - including established volunteers as well as many new ones - were in their willingness to support us. That is definitely not something that can be taken for granted.

The development of the Thuringian athletes is particularly pleasing. Several local heroes could get a taste of World Cup action at the World Cup. What are the chances?

As the German organizer, we have the opportunity to bring a national group to the start. In total, we can give up to twelve men and women the opportunity to compete in the World Cup. If the performances are right, there could even be seven athletes from Thuringia in Oberhof. That is of course an enormous incentive. Among the Thuringian women, we can look forward to several athletes. Victoria Carl has more than impressively proven that she is one of the world's best. But Helen Hofmann, Lisa Lohmann and Katherine Sauerbrey will also be showing their potential at home. With Lara Dellit, we also have a very sprint-savvy athlete in the Thuringian ranks. In the men's race, we can count on Jan-Friedrich Doerks. For him, it will be all about getting a taste of the World Cup and presenting himself in the best possible light.

Christmas is just around the corner. What is your wish for the 2024 World Cup in Oberhof?

In addition to great winter weather, I would like to see our athletes perform as well as possible from a sporting perspective. I have a special wish for those responsible for tourism in Thuringia. Events like the Cross-Country World Cup can generate incredible added value for the region and its attractiveness. Other locations are sometimes far ahead of us in this respect. It would be all the better if we could change this in the long term.

Interview: Ronny Knoll

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