At the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver an athlete silently ended his career, whose idea couldn’t have created more noise during these 2010 Games. It’s about Bastian Kaltenboeck, 26-year-old former member of the Austrian skijumping national team. The new bindings system, used by Simon Ammann at the competitions during Vancouver 2010, was his idea.
Unnoticed by the public and the media the career of Kaltenboeck ends as a fore jumper at the Olympics. “I wanted my final jumps to be cool, my final jumps should be just as much fun as my jumps when I was a little boy. Just enjoying skijumping without any pressure. It was totally cool here in Vancouver – it didn’t matter at all how far I went.”
Inflammation leads to career end
Actually Kaltenbock wanted to take part in Vancouver as a member of the Austrian national team, and he had the potential to do so. But this dream was over very early this season. In training before the winter season 2009/10 in Lillehammer (NOR) he got an inflammation of the heel that made further training impossible. The pain was too strong. To recover from this inflammation doctors told him to take a break until Christmas.
“Realistically this was the end. I wanted to go to the Olympic Winter Games, but with no training, without taking part at the 4-Hills-Tournament there’s no chance at all to achieve that goal in the strongest team of the world. But maybe this was just a signal of my body”, Kaltenboeck says in retrospect. “At least this was a sign for me to quit skijumping. I was thinking about it a lot and this was the point where it just wouldn’t have made sense anymore to keep fighting.
I have never been one of the athletes blessed with a huge talent. I had to work hard for everything and so I tried everything to jump far”, told Kaltenboeck.
Perfect conditions in Stams
His career started where almost every skijumping career starts in Austria, in the high school in Stams. “Without a doubt that fast perfect. When I was attending the school in Stams I had the perfect environment, the best coaches, everything was good. Werner Schuster, now head coach of the German team, was one of my coaches and he was one of the best I ever had. He had probably the most influence on my personality.
This environment is made to show good performances. The support was perfect and I enjoyed myself. My level of jumping was constantly improving.” With hard work, the perfect environment and the fun he made it to the Austrian national team in 2008.
“What was, at first view, an advancement became more of a step backwards for me. Unfortunately the successful system of the Austrian Ski Association was not made for me, and so I was not able to show my full potential. Somehow I was missing the cooperation and team spirit with the coaches, and that was tough. From time to time I had the feeling that I was not myself anymore. It was a pretty brutal experience, but I at the same time learned a lot for my future”, Kaltenboeck tells.
New bindings brings 10 m in distance
But Kaltenboeck keeps on fighting, even without the perfect support of the coaches – and he thinks further. He thinks in every direction to make improvements also on the technical field. So the idea for the new bindings was born, in order being able to keep the skis planer during the flight. With the help of a friendly tinkerer he developed the prototype of bindings. Nobody knew about it, but the two directly involved persons.
The first jump felt unpleasant
“At the first jump with the new bindings I had a queasy feeling. You never know what happens. But this first binding was a lot more extreme than the version used by Simon Ammann in Vancouver. But it worked well and after the second test jump on the K 60 in Stams I could jump on the K 105, and soon also on the K 120. Obviously the new system gave me a push. I thought that I could jump about ten meters farther with this system than with the conventional bindings.”
Kaltenboeck knows that he can be among the best at the season opening 2007/08 in Kuusamo (FIN) with the bindings, but he might get disqualified because it is not approved. So he decides to present the system to the Austrian Association (OESV) before using it. “I had to play my part within the OESV. Starting with the risk of a disqualification was impossible because I’m not an individual competitor but part of a team.”
The team officials decided against the use of the new bindings, the risk of a disqualification was too high. In addition there were safety concerns.
New goal: Key date May 1st
So the new system ended up in the drawer for the 2007/08 winter. By the end of the season he had a functioning binding in hand. Now it had to be approved by the FIS. Newly developed components have to be present to the FIS by May 1st of every year in order to get approved for the upcoming winter. For modifications of components now extra approval is necessary. But the Austrian Association let May 1st, 2008 pass without presenting the bindings to the FIS.
“In retrospect this was the real mistake”, says Kaltenboeck, “because the bindings would have either been approved or forbidden. If it would have been forbidden also similar systems like the one of Simon Ammann would have had no chance for approval later.” The principle of the binding is still preying on the mind of the man from the ski club in Bischofshofen. In May 2008 Kaltenboeck starts working on his system again, he modifies the existing bindings to not need an approval of the FIS. He presents the modified system to the FIS equipment controller Sepp Gratzer various times. Gratzer approves it and Kaltenboeck jumps with his modified bindings during the FIS Summer Grand Prix 2008. A 12th place in Hinterzarten, 9th in Einsiedeln, it goes well. He makes it to the national team of the OESV.
Systems or Ammann and Kaltenboeck comparable
“The bindings system with its kind and modifications was comparable to the system used by Simon Amman now”, Sepp Gratzer tells. “But at the end I didn’t have the success I wanted with it. My jumps were just not good enough, the bindings didn’t help”, Kaltenboeck summed up. And so also the modified system went back into the drawer.
Bastian Kaltenboeck has a business degree and various job offers. “I will stay involved in sports, maybe even in skijumping.”
Questions to Bastian Kaltenboeck concerning Ammann’s bindings:
How important was the share the system had on Simon Ammann’s success with winning two Gold medals here in Vancouver?
“Simon jumps here were outstanding. I’m sure the bindings helped him, but Simon was also able to put all the necessary details into action. He could integrate the bindings in his system perfectly. He did everything right.”
The OESV also expressed safety concerns. Is there a safety deficit in your opinion?
“Not in the case of Simon Ammann, there it’s the opposite. The way that Simon jumps, his whole systems gets more stable and safer. But it’s very demanding and cannot be used by every jumper. If the system is used by someone who can’t handle it, it might get more dangerous.”
Do you have the feeling that Gerhard Hofer (technician that changed over from Austria to Switzerland and mentioned by name in the dossier of the OESV) and/or Werner Schuster took your idea with them to Switzerland and improved it there?
“I’m sure that both of them saw the bindings in training, developed it further and used it for their purpose.”
Is there an aftertaste, are you angry because of that?