At just 20 years old, Roman Schaad had a breakthrough last year – and on the biggest stage a Swiss skier can imagine. Starting his first-ever World Cup competition on home turf in Davos in December, he shocked the field by qualifying in seventh place, then went on to make the semifinals and end up 10th overall. The Swiss crowd went wild, rallying behind the previously-unknown skier with each progressive sprint heat.
From there, Schaad’s dream season continued: he took third place in the sprint at U23 World Championships, finished ninth in the World Cup sprint in Toblach, Italy, and then went to the Olympics in Sochi, where he finished 83rd.
With a few years of U23 eligibility left, Schaad is balancing big goals with manageable stepping stones. We checked in with him in Davos last week to see how his life has changed since that stunning, sunny Sunday back in December when he leapt into the collective consciousness of ski-crazy Switzerland.
FasterSkier: You had a lot of success last year. A lot must have changed for you now?
Roman Schaad: Not so much, I think, actually. After the season I started with the army. But yes, interviews and stuff, this is all new for me.
FS: Is this the first year of your required service?
RS: Yes. I have to do 18 weeks total. I started with five weeks with the real army, shooting and doing whatever. And then the other 13 weeks I am training in the sports center. It’s just the first five weeks that were crazy. But it was after the season. I had time, but at the same time I had no break, it was just the army!
FS: Was the Olympics a big goal for you last year?
RS: No! I started the season here in Davos. It was my first big race. Before this race, I never imagined to go to the Olympics. I always focused on other things. But yeah, after Davos, I thought I could do it.
FS: What was it like to have your first really big race here in Switzerland?
RS: Yeah. All the other Swiss guys were out [none of the other Swiss sprinters made the quarterfinals] and I was standing on the starting line, and I felt good. I knew I was strong because one week before I had a race in Goms and the Russian guys were also there, and I had the third best time. I had been very shocked there! And then here in Davos it was amazing. A beautiful day and so many fans, it was awesome.
FS: Were a lot of people from your home able to come watch your first World Cup?
RS: Yes, I knew that maybe ten people would come [from Unteriberg, near Zurich]. But in the end it was 30 or more people. It was cool.
FS: What was it like to be in the semifinal of your first World Cup? Did you have a plan?
RS: No [laughs]. Not in the semifinal. Well, yeah, I had a plan. I would start easy and in the second lap, on that long flat direction, I wanted to attack. It worked. I had enough power the first time [Schaad won his quarterfinal heat]. But then not enough power in the semifinal. It was tough.
FS: You must have had a lot of interviews that day.
RS: After the race I had two hours of interviews with radio and television. I live in Bunda, next to the start, but it took me two hours to get home. It’s very new for me. All the fans, it was cool.
FS: Do you have more sponsorship now?
RS: Yes, I have a new headwear sponsor, Helvetia, which is a really big insurance company. Here in Davos it’s not very cheap and of course we need the money. Now it’s a little bit easier to have a place to live here.
FS: How is your training going this year?
RS: I had an operation on my shoulder. I fell down in the Engadin Marathon and dislocated it [he still placed 27th, 23 seconds off the win]. Before the army started I had the operation, after the five weeks of basic training. And then I had rehabilitation. I think the last five weeks I have been able to train without troubles. But I hope I can train more than last year. Last year actually I didn’t have many hours because I also had an operation on my knee. I hurt some ligaments playing soccer.
FS: Have you moved up in Switzerland’s team since last season?
RS: Two years ago I was in the “C” team, and last year in the “B” team, and now I am in the “A” team. “A” team, yeah!
FS: Were you training with Tor Arne Hetland last year?
RS: Just a few times. He was my coach in the World Cups, so he looked after me and everything is okay. Here in Davos not so much. But I got some tips from Tor Arne, for sure [laughs].
FS: So who do you train with now?
RS: We have now a new coach, and five training groups. TG1, 2, 3, 4, 5. TG1 is the national team and maybe one from the “B” team because it’s better to train together. I’m in the TG2. TG2 and TG3 train together, with Albert Manhart [the continental cup coach]. The new coach, Ivan Hudec, is just with TG1. So the changes haven’t affected me much.
FS: Swiss sprinters have been getting better and better.
RS: Yes, I hope so! The sprinters train together with the distance skiers. I want to also do some distance races, not just the sprint races. This is a big goal for next year. Last season I only started the sprints, so that was not so good for the training. I had just five long distance races. It’s not so much. The U23s are a big goal, and maybe the Falun team sprint in skating.
FS: How were the Olympics?
RS: I just realized where I was, when I was on the start. At first you think you are in a race, focused. Exactly for the start, I realized what I was doing! But actually my focus was really good. Maybe it was just too high [elevation] for me. It was a hard course.
FS: What was it like to watch Dario and the other guys in the races?
RS: Actually, I never saw the cross country races. I was always in the hotel, relaxed, jogging. But after my race, I was in the mountain village with the other Swiss guys who do halfpipe and downhill. After the race, a little bit more the experience.
FS: Will the next Olympics be easier?
RS: Yeah, I hope so! Maybe now I have more, I know how it works at the Olympics.
FS: Your brother is also a skier, right?
RS: Yes, I live with him, with two other guys, Phillip Haelg from Lichtenstein and Ueli Schnider. We have a good apartment!
FS: Is your brother getting as fast as you?
RS: This was the first year that I am better than he is. He was always better than me. So he is also a good sprinter, and in distance races we need more training. He will be trying to get faster than me again.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.