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Tobias Weidinger und Jasmina Kohler © Adolf Bereuter - Bregenzerwald Tourismus
C Adolf Bereuter - Bregenzerwald Tourismus

Elite performance with a safety net

Elite performance with a safety net

“Combining sports and an apprenticeship was the ideal solution for Jasmina," says Tobias Weidinger from Egg, who heads the “Elite Sports and Teaching" programme. He coached Jasmina Kohler, a pioneer in Nordic combined. Today, he also mentors twelve young athletes in disciplines such as judo, handball and ice hockey. Above all, an apprenticeship offers elite athletes the security of a profession beyond the sports scene. This benefited Jasmina Kohler greatly.

It’s mom’s fault, of course! “When I was in primary school, she forgot to sign me up for Alpine ski training,” recalls Jasmina Kohler with a laugh. “By that time there was only space in the cross-country skiing courses.” What an inauspicious start to what would turn out to be an otherwise successful career in Nordic winter sports! Just one year later, Jasmina from Schoppernau had already become a member of the Bregenzerwald cross-country skiing squad. She enjoyed the Nordic discipline so much that she decided to stick with it. The transition to competitive sports was smooth: “I competed, my training load increased, and at some stage high-level competitions became a natural part of my life.”

At the age of just 15, Jasmina was already a successful biathlete who practiced jumping from homemade ski jumps with her coach – on narrow cross-country skis! “For fun, I once trained with the Nordic Combined squad and jumped down a real ski jump. A short time later, I switched.” In 2018, her first time competing, Jasmina became the Vorarlberg State Champion in Nordic Combined. Throughout Austria, she has become one of just a handful of pioneers of a sport that was only recognised by the FIS in 2014. But Jasmina Kohler isn’t just a pioneer in sports: In 2018, she was one of the first participants in the “Elite Sports and Teaching” pilot project from the Olympiazentrum Vorarlberg. This programme allows young people to combine competitive sports with an apprenticeship after secondary school. This form of schooling takes a year longer and allows time for training and competitions.

Tobias Weidinger und Jasmina Kohler beim Skisprung Training © Adolf Bereuter - Bregenzerwald Tourismus

However, Jasmina’s transition to this new programme was preceded by a grueling year. In 2017, the 15-year-old commuted daily from Schoppernau to the sports high school in Dornbirn: “In the morning and evening, there was an hour and a half bus ride, plus ski jump training several times a week in Tschagguns in Montafon,” recalls the now 20-year-old with a shudder, “then it was back home to study and do homework. My alarm clock rang at five in the morning and my days lasted until midnight. It soon became clear to me that something had to give so I decided to look for an apprenticeship instead.” “The mental maturity and enormous discipline of young elite athletes is impressive,” says Tobias Weidinger from Egg, who heads the Elite Sports and Teaching programme. “But for Jasmina, the total load was clearly too high. Instead, combining sports and an apprenticeship was the ideal solution.”

In late summer of 2017, Jasmina started an apprenticeship as a retail saleswoman at the Natter sports shop in Mellau: “I was able to persuade the owners to support my combination of apprenticeship and competitive sports. The company is organised very flexibly and there are many part-time positions. This made it easy to coordinate my training absences. But of course, my employer also benefited from my vast expertise and athletic experience.”

Jasmina is an excellent example of how the “Elite Sports and Apprenticeship” project should work, says Weidinger, who acts as an information hub for coaches, athletes and companies: “The young elite athletes themselves are responsible for finding an apprenticeship company that suits them. My job is to provide businesses and apprentices with all the detailed information they need.” The 42-year-old, who studied sports management in Innsbruck, currently coaches twelve young athletes, ranging from judo and handball to ice hockey.

For Jasmina, as an apprentice, the combination of education and ski training worked perfectly, but her happiness was short-lived. In 2019, she tore her cruciate ligaments twice within six months of each other and in 2020 she had to end her promising sporting career. During this difficult time, she had the support of her job, which she now performs with great enthusiasm: “Without my apprenticeship, I would be left without sport and without an education today. Those who have to give up elite-level sports due to injury run the risk of falling into a deep mental hole. All the goals you set for yourself and trained for years are lost from one day to the next.”

Tobias Weidinger couldn’t agree more: “It’s very unfortunate that Jasmina’s sporting plans didn’t work out because of her injuries. But her example clearly shows how valuable it is to have a completed education that suits you for a life after elite sports.” In the meantime, Jasmina has long since set herself new goals: in 2022 she completed a one-year additional training course to become a sports equipment specialist – the first woman in the whole of Austria to do so. She has also remained true to elite sports: As of May 2021, she became the women’s coach for ski jumping and Nordic combined at the Vorarlberg Ski Association.

It’s a fantastic challenge, says Jasmina with a determined smile, not least because today she also coaches some of her former colleagues. “Despite her young age, she has slipped seamlessly and perfectly into her new role,” Tobias remarks with respect and pride. “It is also an enormous plus for Vorarlberg skiing to have a coach in Jasmina who, as a former Nordic combined athlete, knows this sport extremely well.”

Author: Babette Karner
Travel Magazine Issue: Winter 2022-23