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  • Mountains of Memories for Winter Olympic Veteran


    (ATR) Gian Franco Kasper has never been afraid to express an opinion or make a timely joke. At times, particularly recently, strong words and misinterpreted humor have gotten the ski federation chief into hot water.

    Kasper and former IOC executive director Gilbert Felli at the Sochi downhill test event in 2012. (ATR)
    Kasper proudly tells Around the Rings in an exclusive interview that he has attended every Winter Olympics since St. Moritz 1948. Considering his remarkable streak of witnessing 19 consecutive Winter Games, one can certainly make the case that the longstanding International Ski Federation president – who will retire in May after nearly 22 years – is entitled to an opinion on almost anything snow or ice related.

    “I probably have the record of attendance at Olympic Winter Games – I started and have proof with a photo in 1948,” the 75-year-old Kasper tells ATR. “I was a child in my mother’s arms when the Olympics were in my hometown in St. Moritz. I was young, but it was logical that I was there.

    “Since then, I have visited all Winter Games up until now. In ’52, my father, who was involved in sports, took me with him to Oslo. And then to ’56. I have seen enough Games so that I have a certain experience and know how,” Kasper says with a wry smile.

    Still, despite this mountain of unprecedented Winter Olympics experience, the Swiss sports leader treaded on thin ice this past February, making questionable comments about “so called” climate change to a Swiss newspaper.

    “Of course, the facts are here and I fully support these ideas that we have to do something for the climate,” Kasper says, having since issued an apology. “But I reject the idea that 10 years from now that we will have no more snow – that will have to be proven. Of course, people took it the wrong way.

    Kasper at Olympic races in PyeongChang (ATR)
    “I made a mistake in PyeongChang saying to some media ‘welcome to global warming’ and they were freezing,” he said, about joking at the 2018 Winter Olympics, where mountain temperatures plummeted below minus 25 degrees Celsius and wind gusts played havoc on ski races.

    “I have learned one thing – not to make jokes,” Kasper tells ATR.

    Kasper also defends remarks attributed to him in 2005 about the rigors of ski jumping not being appropriate for ladies.

    “With the ladies ski jumpers, I read recently that in 2005, I said this and this,” Kasper says. “This is absolute bull****, I’ll tell you honestly.

    “It was in 1978 when I was secretary general at a press conference that I had to say that our medical committee decided and was afraid that ladies’ ski jumping was not healthy. That was all. Now 30 years later, they put it as a personal opinion that I expressed. I never did that.”

    Beijing 2022 Preparations

    Kasper also received backlash in February for conveying that “everything is easier with dictatorships” pertaining to organizing Olympic Games in an interview regarding Beijing 2022.

    Nearly 10 months after those comments, Kasper happily informs that preparations are on track for Beijing 2022’s first test event. Men’s World Cup downhill and super-G races will be contested on a newly designed slope in the Yanqing cluster, about 90 kilometers northwest of Beijing. The event is scheduled for Feb. 15-16, 2020.

    “The preparations for the downhill are excellent – there is no question that they did lots of work,” Kasper said, noting that he visited the future Olympic alpine skiing venue two months ago. “That’s what we expected from the Chinese. They are ready in principle.”

    Salt Lake City Bid Scandal

    Marc Hodler was chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission for the Salt Lake City Winter Games. (ATR)
    Switching topics from future to past Olympic Games, Kasper recalled the chain of events leading up to and the aftermath of the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympic bid scandal, triggered by his FIS predecessor, Marc Hodler.

    “Looking back, I would say it had to happen sooner or later – for all of us, it was very surprising,” said Kasper, who was FIS secretary general in November 1998, when the scandal broke.

    “Marc Hodler was not the same during that period – he had some health problems. For us, it was not always easy, but the interest concentrated on him as a person and IOC vice president at that time and not on our sport. Of course we were involved, but not directly.

    “It had a big influence, which was really necessary. Paying money, bribing, and so on. Since then, people pay more attention within the IOC,” said Kasper, an IOC member from 2008-2018. “I believe we all learned from that and people are more careful nowadays.”

    The Future of FIS

    Looking ahead to the next era of FIS leadership, Kasper suggests that while a new president is welcome, it is unlikely that it will result in dramatic change to an organization that has been guided by himself and Hodler for an incredible 68 years.

    Kasper at 2017 FIS Forum Alpinum in Soelden (ATR)
    “We have to continue to promote our sport for the public, for the kids and let’s say for the profit of skiing,” Kasper says, noting that he will not remain involved, only consulting if needed.

    “It is good if we have some young blood and new ideas, but remember that FIS was always a big, complicated federation where everyone has more than enough possibility to express their opinions.

    “Probably not too much will happen with my successor because our national associations and technical people are more or less the same.”

    Kasper says that after he steps down at the FIS Congress in Thailand on May 22, he will eventually return to his family home in St. Moritz nestled in the Swiss Engadine.

    “I’m looking forward to long, long holidays, sleeping a lot and sooner or later moving back to my hometown of St. Moritz,” he says.

    Sun-drenched mountain days and well-timed ski turns are just around the bend.

    “I still enjoy skiing, particularly in spring. I enjoy Easter holidays for skiing since forever. That’s my period – it will not be skiing everyday.”

    Despite lifelong lessons learned at FIS, Kasper can’t help but conclude with a touch of humor.

    “The only thing I will miss are the closed off ski courses, around our races, that I could ski all by myself.

    “That will no longer be the case in the future, now I will be with 10,000 others.”

    Written and reported by Brian Pinelli

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