In the company of the best

We often hear that top athletes, the biggest champions, are special people. It’s hard to understand why; they seem humanly on the outside just like everyone else. Well, some of them more than the others, but in the end, they are all only human. Attending the World Alpine Skiing Championship in the role of a public relations representative of Ilka Štuhec, I experienced these extraordinaries myself.

World Championship. The name itself implies that this is a special event, one of the peaks of the season, for many also the peak of their career. Observing the event from the prism of public relations – about 1,500 journalists from around the world are accredited. TVs with broadcasting rights, radios, TV’s with no broadcasting rights, online media, print media… In this regard, spokespersons need to evaluate and determine to whom they will arrange a statement or a conversation. Why, to what extent, what we “gain” with it. However, we must be careful not to interfere with the preparation of an athlete, both physically and psychologically. Even though there were no other stakeholders who would “demand” – or, rather expect the engagement of a top athlete – since Sweden is quite far away, the expectations of a big day has been always felt in the air. The day when an athlete goes for all or nothing.

In the first two races, Ilka failed to reach the winning podium. This surely was no disaster as the medal was most highly anticipated at the Sunday’s downhill. Nevertheless, slower times achieved in trainings raise tension and sow doubts in our minds, the minds of laymen watching the competition at the finish line or in a living room in front of TV. Ilka Štuhec devoted a certain amount of time to journalists in the week before the downhill. And already at the official press conference, where all Slovenian journalists were present alongside the foreign ones, she proved to be an exceptionally professional athlete. She also confirmed being everything but unfavourable, accepting the company of journalists with open hands and simply having fun. Thus, after the interviews, when she could flee quickly from the media centre, she gathered all the journalists and made a popular selfie with them. “Why not” was heard. “We’re all here for skiing and because we enjoy doing it,” she added. Such moves distinguish top athletes from top athletes, who are also great people.

The more Sunday was approaching, more and more scenarios about the possible downhill results were circulating. Different scenarios, what Ilka could achieve. We were remembering moments from St. Moritz, reliving the gold medal achieved there and quietly hoping that we will get the medal this time, too. You know – when athletes do well, the first-person plural is quickly in use and we are all doing well. In the meantime, Ilka didn’t seem nervous; she was very calm in her statements, too. There was a lot of talk about getting to know the downhill slope, finding the right feelings and things like that. However, when the day comes, everything must be in place.

After a Sunday’s morning inspection of the slope, a similar story followed. Everything seemed like our Slovenian champion knew exactly what she’s doing. That the doubts are needless, and we can only happily wait for her at the finish line. At the same time, we were thinking about what happens if there is no medal. If we did something wrong, why did this happen. In this whirl of thoughts, Ilka Štuhec is at the start. Calm, focused, determined. I believe we all know the result of the race.

When they all get the confirmation of their work in one minute

Happiness, the feeling of fulfilled task, good work done by everyone in the team, the feeling of confirmation that Ilka is a world champion again – were the thoughts of the team members, at least from my point of view. Even though there is truly no time for celebration, facial features and obvious happiness say it all. A top athlete must be surrounded by a team, which makes sure everything goes smoothly so the athlete can focus on what is really important. The main criteria still remains the final result; the rest is (too) quickly forgotten.

It is also interesting how connected we got in Aare. Within a few minutes, we are all hugging each other – the journalists, representatives of the Slovenian Ski Association, the International Ski Organization and others at the finish line. And they are all unbelievably happy for the Slovenian. As if they were cheering for her but couldn’t say that out loud. Slovenian journalists, who until then had been steadfastly reporting from Aare a whole week around, appear to have received confirmation of their work, too. They got what they came for. Almost an hour and a half long path passing all the media is followed by a press conference and soon it is time for the official medals ceremony, and again attending a number of shows in TV studios.

At times, it seems that everyone there takes a piece of a golden medal. Throughout the whole week spent in Sweden, Ilka Štuhec again showed that she is good with people, she trusts those she works with, she has a clear goal and a clear path to reach it. Even if any doubts arise, uncertainty from others, it doesn’t disturb her. She has her winning path to the goal, both literally and in a meaningful sense, and she sticks to it. As stated in the introduction – top athletes, those true champions that connect the whole country, are special people. And Ilka reflects this specialty in a golden shine. She is a top athlete and a role model due to what she’s doing on and besides the snow.

I therefore have no doubt that she already has a new goal in her mind after the last accident. Even if it seems too distant to the ordinary mortal to even think about it.

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