With a win and two additional podium placements, Maja Vtič and Špela Rogelj made history in Ljubno in 2016. It was a fantastic weekend that wrote an amazing success story for which both girls had been working hard and with great passion almost their entire lives. Although there are always some tough moments that make them want to escape the ski jumping arena, they both agree on having this sport in their blood and quickly dismiss the thought of a life without ski jumping.
Maja, you got to know the sport of ski jumping closer in primary school through your brother. How come you accompanied him to his trainings and what made you replace handball and athletics with ski jumping?
Maja: We always watched ski jumping on TV. Apart from that, we also had a ski jump and a ski jumping club, a member of which was my brother, close to our home. My brother trained a lot and sometimes I accompanied him to his training sessions. Once, they asked me if I would like to try it – it was more of a joke than anything serious. At that time, there were no ski jumping competitions for girls, or even organised trainings, which is why I had no idea where the road was going to take me. However, if you’re an “adrenaline junky” like me, you quickly get sucked into this sport, and you crave longer and longer distances. That is pure enjoyment, which gets you hooked and drives you forward. After I took up ski jumping, the wheels started moving – the first trainings for female ski jumpers and the first international competitions were organised. It all went step by step. All of a sudden, I had plans, realistic plans, which kept me going, the same as the results that followed.
Špela, in one of your statements last year you mentioned that it took you and your brother quite some time to persuade your father that ski jumping was the sport you wanted to take on. How did you get to know ski jumping and what attracted you so much to this sport?
Špela: At home, we have always watched a lot of sports on TV. For me, ski jumping was not really attractive on the TV screen. But then my family and I went for a trip to Tamar and made a stop in Planica, where I saw girls ski jumping. That really fascinated me, not only ski jumping as a sport, but more so the fact that girls were also doing it. I always liked adrenaline-rushing activities and I think that was also one of the reasons why I was attracted to this sport. I wanted to try it out for myself. I fell in love with the sport already during my first jumps and I knew immediately that I wanted and still want to do this sport.
How did you explain it to your family and friends that ski jumping is the right sport for you and how did you start training?
Špela: It was not difficult to explain it to my family, since they always supported me in my decisions, but some friends still don't completely understand my decision: “Why did you decide on women’s ski jumping – a sport in which the girls still need to prove their place as it is mostly dominated by men?” Maybe this is exactly the reason why–I wanted to help put women's ski jumping on the map in Slovenia. We have already achieved a lot with our results and hard work, resulting in women's ski jumping finding its place among the most popular sports in Slovenia. I answer that I see ski jumping as a sport, which I chose for myself. I consider it my job, whereas others opted for different jobs. When they ask me about school, I tell them that I decided that sport was the most important and that if I ever had a wish to study, I will surely be successful due to my strong willpower. “You probably don’t have any free time,” is also one of the comments, to which I reply that I don’t need free time, since I am living the life I want – a life totally dedicated to sports.
Maja: I don't really recall how I told them, but I told my family immediately, and there were no negative comments or objections. I think it was because they were not really aware how far I was willing to go in this sport. I don't remember the reaction of my friends. I guess they all became aware of it in school, where I missed my classes due to my trainings and competitions. My colleagues and friends didn't give me any strange looks. Well, maybe there were some who asked, “Are girls also ski jumping?” or “Where did you find this sport?” I still hear this question very often. Maybe I received more strange looks on the ski jumps, where the guys looked at us funny, than in my home environment.
Last year, the girls fulfilled the dreams of us all and stood on the podium on the renovated ski jump in Ljubno. How do you see last year's competition and what place do those medals have in your heart?
Maja: This was the most important competition in my career, a breaking-point competition, where I finally won for the first time – quite decisively if I may add – with really great jumps, which were not a result of coincidence or luck. Even though I know it is tough to win at home, I proved to myself that I could do it. Many athletes have expected and some even predicted great results in front of the home crowd, but failed. In such moments, I see that I truly did something special. Overcoming all the pressure, the expectations of the media and the fans. I remember those feelings well and very fondly, and I only wish I was able to repeat them again.
Špela: I always wanted to stand on the podium at home, but the podium placement last year was really unexpected. I was jumping well in trainings, in qualifications, but that does not mean much. When I realised that I will be standing on the podium, that there will actually be two Slovenians on the podium, I was just amazed. People were expecting these results ever since we started to compete. We were always close but never on the podium. Until last year – it was rather unexpected, spontaneous; we were all pleased and happy. It is a great feeling to say thanks to your wonderful fans with a podium spot at home. Personally, last year's result means a lot to me, maybe even more than my first victory, because I reached the podium at home and because this result was a true blessing after a season in which my results were fluctuating. Then, this podium came. I said to myself that I was waiting for it the entire season and that all the pain and everything that comes with the trainings was worth it. I forgot all the tough moments that preceded this result.
Maja, in the past season you were 3rd in the final World Cup standings. Špela you were ranked among the top 10 in the World Cup. Does that encourage you or does it add to the pressure in this season's fight for the points and the podium?
Maja: Both. It is encouraging to see that you are able to have great results. This gives you the motivation for the future, for trainings, as you are trying to be in the best shape possible, always seeking new possibilities of improving. When you’re not at your best, you feel the pressure, you get worried about what you’re doing wrong, and you only want to repeat your best results. We are always trying to improve. When we make a step forward, we want to make another one, and another … You put yourself under pressure, while the media adds to that pressure. It is obvious that when your results are good, the media quickly becomes spoiled and craves for more. And when you are “only” among the top 10, they are not satisfied anymore. Personally, I believe that top 10 results are still great.
Špela: I didn't feel any additional burden this season, since I was not the best in our team. The burden fell on other girls. The goal for the previous season was set and achieved, even though the season was not off to a good start. The goal for this season remains the same, to be among the top 10 in the world, something that we are all working towards. We are pretty even when it comes to our achievements, which means that if you’re among the top 10, you have top results.
How do you tackle challenges?
Maja: I have no special ritual. I simply take on a challenge. I believe that I will succeed, knowing that my preparations for the competition were good and that I will make a good jump – I believe in myself.
Špela: Mostly by being angry with myself. (laughs) If I see that I’m not prepared for training or that I’m feeling tired, I try to “restart” myself. It is my job to show up at training sessions and train. I get angry for letting something like that even happen to me, while on the other hand I always tell myself that I am only human and that everyone has their bad moments. I say to myself – be there, do your job, then shut the door of your room, be quiet or yell and let your anger out if you can. (laughs)
Do you agree with the statement “the goal is to surpass all goals” and if so, why?
Maja: As an athlete, you train for situations like that, you try to upgrade and improve on your previous best results. We always strive towards achieving better results and not worse ones. I agree that you should try to reach your goals even if the price is steep, but only without harming yourself or others.
Špela: I agree with this statement, because it is you – the athlete – who sets the goals. You surpass a goal and set a new one. If you don’t surpass your goals, you are not successful, you are not improving.
All the girls, both coaches, and even the FIS agree that the competition in Ljubno is truly something extraordinary because of the fans. What message do you have for them?
Maja: Mainly that they should continue with the tradition of coming to Ljubno, which is the World Cup event that attracts the most visitors or at least the event that boasts the best atmosphere on the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup Ladies circuit. That's my wish – even more fans in Ljubno, which would mean that we are gradually nearing the popularity of men's ski jumping. I have no doubt about our fans creating an excellent atmosphere. They always do.
Špela: I want to thank all the fans, since they always create the best atmosphere on the World Cup circuit. Even though I am not from Ljubno, it feels like home. With the support of the BTC Company, which has been our sponsor for all these years, it is much easier to compete at home. I don't feel any burden, since we all know that our fans support us unconditionally, even if we make a mistake. I would especially like to thank my personal sponsor Kobal Transporti, which has been by my side since the beginning, and which helps the BTC Company in the organisation of the competition.