Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec flew into the spotlight this season with her consistent skiing in the speed events, which put her in contention for the World Cup overall title. That is why FIS wanted to kick off their summer Q&A series with the 26-year-old athlete from Maribor.
You claimed 13 World Cup podiums, scoring a total of 1325 points. In addition, you earned two discipline crystal globes and a World Championship title. How does it feel to look back on such a successful season?
During the season, I never really thought about the numbers, statistics. Also, I didn’t have much time to realize what I did, what the results mean. Now that I look back at it it’s just amazing! The other day, I was placing the globes and other trophies in the showcase at home and it occurred to me that I achieved some big things, and like many times in the past season, I had to cry a little bit again.
Before getting where you are, you had five World Cup seasons with only five top-10 finishes. This season, something triggered and brought you a huge step forward. What was different? What made you so strong and unstoppable?
It was not just one thing that I could point at. For a big step like this, it’s not just one summer. You grow and develop as an athlete for years. All together everything was running smoothly in dryland training and skiing. I think I just stopped thinking about things and just skied. Enjoyed and had a lot of fun.
You are at home in the speed disciplines, but you showed great skill in slalom and giant slalom, particularly in Maribor, where you finished 10th and 14th. Are tech disciplines something you will consider in the future? Or is it more of a compliment for your speed training?
We always try to train everything. I wouldn’t like to present myself as a specialist for certain discipline. During the season, it’s quite hard to find the right balance between races, training and resting. Doing the whole World Cup circuit, all the races, it’s really exhausting, so I guess we will see how that goes in the next season.
What’s next for you? We can imagine the Olympic Winter Games and the Overall World Cup being at the top of the list. Are those goals for you?
Those are every athlete’s dreams, also mine. On that special race days, anything is possible. We’ve seen it many times. Guess what I was doing in this season worked really well – I tried my best on every race. So why not do it there as well? But it’s still a long way to go and a lot of races before next season’s highlight.
After your Junior World Champion title in 2008, you suffered different severe injuries. Can you tell us about it and describe your way back to the top?
In summer 2008, I had a bad crash in downhill training in La Parva, Chile. I tore my ACL, both meniscuses had cracks, side bands were partly broken. After surgery, things didn’t go that well, I needed another arthroscopic surgery to clean the right knee. Muscles couldn’t develop because I had a lot of pain. After that it got a bit easier, I could start training normally. But again, exactly one year after the first surgery, I had a slalom crash that resulted in a dislocated patella and partly broken ACL. The doctors cleaned the knee (same, right) saying it should be ok. Well, it was not. I had a lot of pain and realized, I have to look for help somewhere else. So I went to Basel, Switzerland. There Dr. Friederich and his team saved my knee, and my career. That was in 2010. After everything was better again, I could race normally and I was selected to represent Slovenia at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. But one month before, on the downhill race in Zauchensee, I almost crashed again and broke 1/3 of my ACL. Yet again, I had another arthroscopic surgery in Basel. And I was lucky to have the best team of doctors and physiotherapists around me – I still manage to attend the Olympics. Even today, I still have only 25 percent of normal ACL in my right knee, everything else is grown together with PCL. Plus my muscles are strong enough to keep the knee stable, so it works just fine.
You work with a personal team including your mom as your technician. What are the advantages of this structure and how important is this small, trusted team around you?
Advantage of a small, individual team is that we can do what I need the most, all the time. If that is more training, more rest or whatever, we just do it. The team around me is almost like my family; we are very connected. Sometimes it makes it harder because we are so emotional. But most of the time, it’s the best.
In addition to your career world class athlete, you are studying economics at the University in Maribor. How do you manage both activities?
University is quite on the side during winter. It’s really really hard to study and race at the same time. I wish I would do exams faster, but sometimes I don’t have enough energy to study. Good thing is that I know a thing or two about business in skiing and how it works in real life, not only from the books.
Release from FIS