Team China in preparation for Beijing 2022: Interview with Wolfi Schädler
Berchtesgaden (FIL) Wolfgang Schädler started as an active luger for the Principality of Liechtenstein. He competed at the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games in both Singles and Doubles events. At his third Olympic participation at the 1984 Games in Sarajevo, he finished 11th in Singles.
After his active career, Wolfgang Schädler remained in the sport as a coach. For 24 years (1986 to 2010), he coached the USA national luge team. From 2010, the experienced head coach and material expert led Russia's national team to the 2014 Winter Olympics. Since 2015, he has been head coach at the Chinese federation.
Mr Schädler, from September 2020 to February 2021 you were in China with your team for training on the new Olympic track. You have been back home in Liechtenstein since 1 March 2021. Have you settled in well again? How was the time in YanQing in Beijing province?
Wolfgang Schädler: "I have settled in well at home again. It is very nice to see more than just a hotel room, the hotel grounds and the luge track. In the beginning we could still walk the half hour into town, later that was no longer possible. Over Christmas and New Year we were allowed to spend two days in Beijing, which was a nice change. I was in China together with my coach colleague and old friend Norbert Huber (ITA) and that was very good not to have to go through the whole thing alone. After our third coach Tony Benshoof (USA) had been in hospital for 50 days with Covid-19 and then in quarantine for another two weeks, he travelled back home. We were lucky that we could then engage the former doubles luger from Romania Paul Ifrim as a coach on the weekends. Paul has been working as a sports teacher at a school in Beijing for a couple of years and has supported us in the best possible way".
How many athletes do you have to coach? How does that work with the few experienced coaches?
Wolfgang Schädler: "We have 24 young athletes. Since the track is very long, there are also many problem areas. We always trained together with the A and B teams. The athletes from the B team have some problems and for the A team you have to correct more in the upper part, in the time-eating curves. That's where the coaches are very important, there should be someone at every turn if possible. You must not forget that we have only been lugeing for five or six years now. That's not much for the sport of luge. The sport is much more difficult than bobsleigh and skeleton. It needs a long-term development of young talents".
What is the motivation of your athletes who have been away from home for two years and are fully focused on the sport of luge?
Wolfgang Schädler: "The motivation is that they have the chance to participate in the Olympics and that in the sport they have learned to love. This is an opportunity for life, it also offers career opportunities after the sport. All of them have learned English very well so far. They understand the track corrections well and the language offers them additional opportunities."
Is your team already set for the Olympic qualification or do you still have to do qualification races in autumn?
Wolfgang Schädler: "The team for the World Cup and the Olympic qualification is in place. That is our A group. We have one double. The second double in the B team is not ready yet. Some girls and three to four boys are already at a good level and are sledding very well. Athletically, they have all developed quite well. I am very satisfied with my team in such a short time".
How many runs have your athletes been able to make on the new Olympic track so far?
Wolfgang Schädler: "The international athletes had left YanQing after the pre-homologation and we were not able to luge for the whole month of November. We were quarantined in the hotel and the construction company had to do the last work on the track. Then in December we started again. So far, we have made numerous runs on the track in YanQing. In training, our athletes have mastered the track quite well by now. The pressure of competitions, the experience on other tracks and the international comparison are, of course, completely missing".
What is the goal for the coming Olympic season?
Wolfgang Schädler: "The goal is clearly to reach the starting places for the Olympics. Of course, we don't have the rides on the other tracks. In Königssee, for example, it will be very difficult for us".
How were the Covid-19 rules for your team in China? Why do you think there was no second or even third wave of infection in China like in Europe?
Wolfgang Schädler: "After our arrival in China, we were first in quarantine for three weeks. Between September and February, I did about 30 Covid-19 tests. The temperature was automatically measured every day at the entrance to the hotel. We were always all healthy because we isolated ourselves. The usual hygiene rules with masks, separate tables for eating and plastic gloves for cutlery applied throughout. In China, the infection situation is under control. In comparison, the handling of the pandemic in Europe is really amateurish. The economy in China cannot afford a second wave, so they have to be strict. And this is being implemented consistently. You have to download a health app on your smartphone. All shops, restaurants and bars are open. At the entrance, you have to scan the code from the app and only then you can enter. I think that's a good control! But in Europe, people don't want to learn from the Chinese and that's why all the measures are only half implemented. In our country, people are opposed to an app. Young people in China see that if the economy goes down the drain, that's their future. So everyone sticks to the rules".
What is the timetable for your team now?
Wolfgang Schädler: "On 28 February was our last training on the track. Our team still had the second Covid-19 vaccination on 15 March and then they were all allowed to go home for the first time - after two years! As a European, you can't imagine that at all: For two years, the athletes and coaches have only seen the same faces from their teammates."
Why is it so strict and you can't even visit your family over Christmas or New Year?
Wolfgang Schädler: "I understand that. The Chinese state and also the federations have invested a lot of money in the sport to prepare for the Olympics. If you now endanger everything by carelessness and the outbreak of an infection in the team, then that would be very tragic."
How have you planned the further preparation for the Olympic season?
Wolfgang Schädler: "The plan is that Nori, Tony and I will take turns training in the summer and that one of us will always be with the team in every phase of the preparation for the season. But of course we don't know yet how things will go with the infection and the travel restrictions? In any case, we plan to start luge on ice again on September 20th in YanQing. We also want to go to a few more tracks in Europe during the preparation. We are very happy that we can start the World Cup at home. Last winter we didn't have any competitions. Now we have to see that we collect the points for the Olympic qualification!"
Thank you very much for the interview!
photos: Norbert Huber