By Theresa Fugger
The Visma Ski Classics Pro Team “Skimarathon Team Austria” was founded in 2015 with the goal to positively present cross-country skiing in Austria and the German-speaking region, to increase the popularity and organize competitions, but also to offer young ambitious talents the possibility to compete in long distance skiing on a professional level.
Pro Team Manager Peter Kiene specifically targets very young skiers, sometimes as young as 18 years old and recruits them to the SMTA Junior Program in which the team prepares them in a long-term process to grow and ultimately succeed at the long distance World Championship Visma Ski Classics.
Many of the skiers still go to school or have just finished school, attending various Austrian ski high schools. 25-year-old Martin Doppelreiter, for example, a graduate of Ski Akademie Schladming, has already participated in some Visma Ski Classics events in Season VII and focuses now on finishing his studies while still competing at some events this season.
The promising young recruit Anna Maria Wörndle (23 years old) is one of Austria’s most successful endurance athletes. In her teens, she was already a successful cross-country skier and triathlete, but changed to ski touring and trail running for some time. Now, she is back on cross-country skis and focuses her training on long distances with the aim to compete at some Visma Ski Classics events in Season X.
Patrick Duci and Feliz Kappelsberger have been part of Skimarathon Team Austria since 2017. Both graduated at Skigymnasium Saalfelden and currently study sports sciences in Salzburg, Austria. Last season, they already gained some Visma Ski Classics experience at the Prologue in Livigno as well as at Marcialonga. These 22-year-olds will compete at three to four Visma Ski Classics events in Season X, next to pursuing their duties as students.
Whilst some athletes focus on their studies, the next generation of young athletes is getting off the starting blocks. The two training buddies Markus Dankl and Florian Plieschnegger, both 19 years old, will finish Skigymnasium Saalfelden in spring, but they already train hard for their first appearance at a Visma Ski Classics event, maybe still in Season X since they decided to focus on long distance skiing in the past year. Peter Kiene has provided them with starting spots in some Austria Loppet races and recognized great potential in both youngsters. Markus was able to gain the title as the youngest winner of the popular Austrian long-distance event “Steiralauf”.
“In a few years Markus, Florian and Feliz will turn out to be key players in long distance skiing of German-speaking countries”, says Peter Kiene confidently.
Due to the still rather scarce density of motivated young long-distance skiers, the Pro Team found their strongest youth athlete in 25-year-old Finnish skier Veli-Matti Räsänen. He has been training well this year, almost 800 hours in total, and he is in peak form and ready to rock when Season X commences. Last year, he gained his first experiences in long distance skiing at some Euroloppet and Worldloppet events. This season, he fully focuses on Visma Ski Classics events and aims to get a few Top 30 positions.
The SMTA Junior Program offers young athletes the necessary knowhow and training to develop their long-distance skiing skills while it still leaves room to develop an academic and professional career. Sport and studies are proportionally distributed each year and adapted to each athlete’s personal preferences.
Meanwhile Skimarathon Team Austria does not only support and promote Austrian skiers, but also international young skiers with high potential in long-distance skiing.
“It is a win-win situation”, explains Peter Kiene. “We offer support our international young skiers and offer them entries to Visma Ski Classics events, and the team gains international attention, contacts, knowhow, material and training tips in order to improve the chances for our young rising stars.”