By Michael Mastarciyan
German GS specialist Thomas Dressen hasn’t competed at the Olympics yet, but he has the soul of a true Olympian - the very kind of person Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was thinking about when he said, “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
On a blustery, foggy day last March at the FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships in Roccaraso, Italy, the 18-year-old German put honour and good sportsmanship ahead of personal accomplishment and vanity, while competing in the giant slalom.
After finishing 30th in the first run, Dressen was first out of the gate for the second leg of the race. After the 10th racer finished, the weather got progressively worse and some thought it may have had a negative effect on the rest of the field.
Dressen would go on to win silver after being beaten out by Norwegian racer Henrik Kristoffersen, the first run leader.
Then, in true sportsmanlike fashion, Dressen told reporters that he was glad Kristoffersen had won the race, and that he didn’t find the conditions fair after the 10th racer had crossed the finish line, crediting good luck and the first start position in the second run as contributing factors to his silver medal win.
Good fortune may have played a role on that day, but it doesn’t explain Dressen’s exemplary overall performance in the other events he competed in at Roccaraso. A talented all-rounder with vast potential, Dressen had top-10 finishes in every event he competed in during those championships (9th in downhill, 7th in super-G and 4th in combined).
Dressen has also shown flashes of excellence on the Europa Cup circuit. Despite being a relative rookie with only nine races under his belt on that tour, he already has a 2nd place in super-G on his alpine racing CV.
We caught up with Dressen recently for a quick Q&A about his racing career so far...
MM: Thomas, take us through your GS runs at Junior Worlds in Roccaraso last March, what was going through your head going into the 2nd run?
TD: At first I didn’t care about my second run, because I had made a big mistake in the first run, and I didn't think that I could finish in a good position. So I just decided to have fun and to do my best.
MM: You had a great 2nd run and it looked like you might win the GS race that day until Henrik Kristoffersen edged you out of first place – what did you think of that?
TD: When I was standing in the finish area I just thought, “Wow what a second run!” I had dreamed of a good place at the end of the race, but I didn't think this would be possible.
MM: You told reporters that the weather and course conditions were probably not fair after the 10th racer finished the 2nd run, is this correct? Can you tell us why you said that?
TD: Yes that's correct that I said this, and it's true that the conditions helped me, but after some days I thought about the race and came to the point that it was fair, because I had a big mistake in the 1st run and there were also other guys in the second run that had good conditions, but they didn't exploit their chance.
MM: You also said you were happy Henrik Kristoffersen won the race, is this true? Why did you say it?
TD: I said this because I think Henrik, right now, is one of the best skiers in our age group, so he deserved it.
MM: Are you and Henrik friends?
TD: I would say we know each other and I like his mentality. So yes, I’d say we are friends.
MM: You said you felt luck was on your side during that race, is this true also?
TD: Yes, but you always have to have luck to earn a good place. Sometimes you have good luck and sometimes you don’t.
MM: Good luck may have helped you, but you also skied a flawless 2nd run – do you agree?
TD: I would agree with this, because I had good conditions, but I also deserved the better conditions. It's not as easy as it sounds like.
MM: Many people were very impressed with the way you handled yourself after taking silver in that race, and feel you displayed the traits of a true sportsman – how does this make you feel?
TD: I'm very proud of this, because I always wanted to be successful and fair as well. My parents taught me to be this way.
MM: What do you think it takes to be a good sportsman?
TD: You have to look just look at yourself and not care what other people say about you – but this also means you have to help others when they’re not doing well, and feel happy for people who were faster than you. You have to do all you can to succeed in your sport, but you also have to accept it when somebody else does better than you.
MM: Do you think good sportsmanship is something you are taught or something that comes naturally from within?
TD: I think it comes from both. You have to be taught, but you have to feel it inside yourself too.
MM: Many ski racers have told me on numerous occasions that ski racing is an outdoor sport and sometimes conditions help you and sometimes they don’t – do you agree?
TD: That's true.
MM: You had top-10 finishes in downhill, super-G and combined in Roccaraso, did good luck play a role in those races too?
TD: Yes, of course. It's like as I said before - luck always plays a role in sport, but you also have to be able to do the best you can when you have to. You have to keep a cool head.
MM: You are clearly a very talented multi-discipline racer; do you consider yourself an all-rounder?
TD: Yes, because there's no discipline that I like most. I love to ski them all.
MM: You had a 2nd place podium finish at a Europa Cup race Sarntal, Italy last season, was that luck, good skiing or both?
MM: What’s the most important thing you learned last season?
TD: You always have to believe in your skills; even if there are some races where you don’t get good results.
MM: Where will you do most of your racing next season – Europa Cup?
TD: I hope I can do most of my skiing in the Europa Cup, because in the EC every race is a new challenge.
MM: What’s your top goal for next season?
TD: Nothing special. Of course Junior World Championships are one of my top goals because they'll be in Canada, and it's a dream of mine to race there.
MM: Did you have any ski racing idols growing up?
TD: Hermann Maier
MM: If you could ride a chairlift with any other skier, past or present, who would it be and what would you talk about?
TD: I’d like to ride up with Hermann Maier, because for me he's more than a sportsman – he’s taught me how to work in hard times, and how to deal with extreme situations. I’d ask him, how he managed tough situations.
MM: What’s the best ski racing advice anyone has ever given you?
TD: Always have fun, do your best, and don't pay attention to what other people say about you. I got this advice from my father.
MM: Do you have any advice for other young racers?
TD: The same as my father told me.
MM: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not skiing?
TD: I like hanging out with my friends, swimming, cycling, barbecues, just normal things people like to do.
MM: Skiers are often adrenaline junkies; do you enjoy any other sports that get your blood pumping?
TD: Not yet, but there are sports that I’m interested in that I haven't tried out yet.
MM: What do you like to do to relax?
TD: Swimming in a lake in the morning and then lying in the sun. I also like to watch funny movies.
MM: I’ve never met a German who wasn’t crazy about football (soccer). Are you a fan, do you have a favourite team?
TD: Of course I like football, and my favourite team is Bayern München
MM: Have you taken any time off this off-season? Go on any vacations? Do anything exciting?
TD: Not yet. There wasn't time for a holiday or a break.
MM: How is off-season training coming along?
TD: Until now training has been very good and I hope to stay healthy.
Thomas Dressen scored the 2nd place in the GS at the Roccaraso Junior Worlds 2012