At the conclusion of last season in late March, German cross-country national team member Tim Tscharnke still wanted to keep going for one more Olympic highlight year. He was eager to redeem himself after a disappointing 2016/2017 season — by his standards — in which he started only eight World Cup races. His best result of last winter came at the Tour de Ski in Val Mustair, Switzerland, where he placed 24th in the 10-kilometer classic mass start. Due to a respiratory illness, he was not selected for Germany’s 2017 World Championships team, also missed the national championships and finished the season on the European Continental Cup.
His health problems lingered through the spring. Unable to train as intensively as he wanted to, 27-year-old Tscharnke reconsidered his future in the sport and ultimately announced his retirement on Facebook late last month.
“The last three years of my career were riddled with many mediocre months, punctuated by health problems and athletic setbacks,” Tscharnke wrote, according to a direct translation. “For this reason I will end my athletic career.
“I consider it impossible to once again get back to the top of the world. Yet that has always been my standard: to compete against the best and fight for top results,” he continued. “However I had to realize that respectively my body no longer can absorb the training volume and methods from the good years, and therefore it is impossible for me to compete against the strong international competition on an equal level. Especially my back and my feet, which time and again had to be treated between training camps in order to even ensure a basic level of training, in combination with results I could not deliver, have let the motivation sink into a deep hole over and over again.”
He explained that he did not just want to make the team for PyeongChang 2018 as a “tourist”:
“The attempt for the next season to secure a ticket as an Olympic tourist on the very last fumes and then just ski around there without any chance at positioning in the front… no, that is not up for debate,” he wrote. “It would not be justified to miss my family for another year and potentially damage the body even more. Nevertheless I look back on a good time. A time during which it was possible for me to achieve some great successes, which I am proud of!”
One of his biggest moments of his career came during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, when he captured silver in the men’s team sprint with teammate Axel Teichmann, behind the Norwegian gold-medal duo of Petter Northug and Øystein Pettersen.
At the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Tscharnke and teammate Hannes Dotzler nearly took another medal in the team sprint, winning their semifinal and leading a three-person group in the final, before Tscharnke tangled with Finland’s Sami Jauhojärvi coming down into the finishing stretch and crashed. Tscharnke took a long time to stand up and ultimately finished seventh for Germany.
After that, Tscharnke got back on track to become the last German skier to-date to win a World Cup race: the 15-kilometer classic mass start stage of the 2015 Tour de Ski in Val di Fiemme, Italy. His other World Cup win was in the same format (15 k classic mass start) in 2012 in Canmore, Alberta.
“I want to thank everyone who accompanied me on my way, during my active time: my family, my friends, my faithful sponsors, and last but not least of course also my fans and supporters, who were excited for me and cheered for me during the last years,” Tscharnke concluded in his Facebook post. “I say, Thank You and wish you all the best for the future!”
Tscharnke has not revealed what he plans to do next. In the last few months, he has teamed up with an advisor to the German national team to offer weekend rollerskiing courses. Tscharnke is employed as an officer with the German border patrol.
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Harald has been following cross-country skiing and biathlon for some 20 years since the Olympic Winter Games in Albertville and Lillehammer. A graduate of Middlesex University London and Harvard University, he now lives near the Alps where he likes to go skiing, snowboarding and hiking. He is a former track athlete in middle-distance running, as well as a huge NBA fan.