Metal Work

Exotic And Secret To Glory

WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) — A warm odor of melting wax curled out of the room in which an abysmal artisan of Alpine skiing was in work.

The road led by a brightly lit basement, directly below a restaurant in a hotel. This was a games area for the majority of the winter season from the Swiss Alps resort of Wengen, but pingpong tables were thrown off during World Cup race week in January.

The space was required for groups of technicians who spend hours hunched over workbenches, waxing the bases and sharpening the edges of skis to make a downhill racer like Lindsey Vonn that substantially faster.

Their work is crucial to any racer’s success at the Pyeongchang Olympics, which open. It began long through offseason training, during preseason equipment evaluations, and on race days.

Working largely out of public view in hotel cellars, the servicemen are to ski fans.

Leo Mussi was in Wengen attempting to make speed from the skis of 2 American downhillers for one of the classic races of the season.

“We’re really a little odd, I would say, also, us support guys,” Mussi, one of skiing’s most admired techs, told The Associated Press. “It’s a challenging job, physically, emotionally. You travel a whole lot, you are on the road. Nonetheless, it’s a type of drug, also, this task.”

Their sponsor matchs with technicians top-ranked racers. Lower-ranked racers and beginners have their skis prepared by a serviceman with the federal team.

In the top, some may request the best techs in a market that is restricted. Vonn was quick to pounce, when Bode Miller split in 2009 with renowned serviceman Heinz Haemmerle.

“They call him ‘Magic Heinzi’ for a reason,” Vonn told the AP. “He has been doing this for almost as long as I have been living. He is amazing and I trust him entirely.”

That faith assists bind a skier’s guts and racing instinct to reach speeds of up 145 kph (90 mph) on the hill.

Mussi has committed almost 30 working years to 2 downhill racers — his fellow Italian Kristian Ghedina, and American Steven Nyman — although used by ski manufacturer Fischer.

“Leo is basically like a European father figure to me,” Nyman said. “I do not even question him. I put the skis on and see they are going to be fast.”

The ski tuner, Haemmerle of Vonn, has worked for Norwegians Aksel Lund Svindal, Beat Feuz of Switzerland and the Head brand used by the men’s downhill favorites and Kjetil Jansrud.

Friendship trumps rivalry in the Norway team and they discuss a technician and skis.

Pairing skier with serviceman is the job of Rainer Salzgeber, Head’s race director along with a two-time Olympian for Austria.

“Some are really good friends,” Salzgeber said. “However, not every athlete wants to have a very close friend who is working on his stuff.”

At this Olympic season’s entire year, he estimated, serviceman and a skier are off together for 200 days. That may mean equipment tests to get races, offseason training in South America the Winter Games in Asia back in the spring that is European.

The particular relationship is contrasted to that of a golfer and caddie. Except caddies get days in the sun on tv plus 10 percent of prize money six figures routinely run.

The World Cup races — both in Austria, a men’s downhill at Kitzbuehel, a women’s slalom in Flachau — cover a first prize of less than $85,000. Not all skiers follow Nyman’s example in giving 10 percent to their serviceman.

“It’s a challenging job,” Salzgeber said. “The single payback that you have is achievement, actually.”

Mussi has been the kind of injuries that struck at Nyman, but also a part of 15 World Cup downhill wins. His Olympic period was ended by a torn ACL in his right knee.

“You want to understand you aren’t constantly at the top,” said Mussi, who also songs skis for U.S. downhill prospect Bryce Bennett.

The camaraderie in resort cellars helps. Mussi talked at his workbench.

A radio and classic pop and rock songs played. As the late afternoon work wound down, cans of beer were provided, along with a bottle of lotion was shared for hand injuries that were inescapable.

The instruments of Mussi’s trade have improved since he simply taped his palms before submitting steel ski edges. Now, a metal directing tool does more exact work, and wax-shining brushes can be attached to a hand drill.

It wants a very simple plastic scraper to remove layers of wax — crucial to reducing friction between ski and snow — and Mussi uses a diamond file to finesse the edges just before a race.

Then as racers like Nyman peer down the mountain to get a last few seconds, a tech may be coach and motivator.

“You are a highly respected Individual,” Mussi said. “

(The racers) know what they have.”


Associated Press writer Eric Willemsen at Bad Kleinkircheim, Austria, contributed to this report.


More AP Olympic policy:

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