"Lausanne and the surrounding area are a great place to become a champion"
Killian Peier became Switzerland's top ski jumper last winter, with a string of top 10 finishes in the World Cup, and a bronze medal on the large hill at the 2019 World Championships. He managed to overcome a huge disappointment: failing to qualify for the Games in PyeongChang in 2018. An ambassador for the YOG in Lausanne, he tells us about his career and explains how Swiss athletes will benefit from the renovation of the ski jump at Les Tuffes, in the French Jura.
You were seven years old in 2002 when you saw Simon Ammann win two gold medals at the Games in Simon Ammann aux Games of Salt-Lake City. Tell us about it.
When I saw Simon's achievements, I quite simply wanted to take up ski jumping. My parents were interested too, but what do you do when you live in La Sarraz, close to the Vallée de Joux and a long way from any ski jump? They asked people at the ski club, and found out that the ideal age to start jumping was 10. For two years, I did lots of other sports: basketball, gymnastics, etc. For my 10th birthday, I was able to take part in a ski jump initiation at Le Brassus. I did a few jumps with Alpine skiing equipment, and the next day the coach brought me the proper equipment, the skis and the suit. I did quite a few jumps, in the Vallée de Joux and in France too, at the Les Tuffes stadium; and that marked the start of my passion for this sport.
After being your source of inspiration, Simon Ammann became your team mate. What did he do for you?
It's difficult to say. I was inspired by how seriously he took his training, his total involvement in ski jumping. He never does things by half and works on every detail. He's a role model. For me personally, he never told me: "try and change this or that", but rather: "you've got a lot of qualities and you could work a bit better", but without going into specific detail. He had so many things to focus on, so didn't have the time to be too close to the younger jumpers.
Were the YOG in Innsbruck in 2012 your first big international competition?
It was the second time for me. The year before, I'd taken part in the European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) in Liberec in the Czech Republic. So a second participation which was more international than what I'd experienced up to then. A great experience, and a chance to find out how events at a higher level worked. It was good to discover this Olympic universe, in terms of both how the competitions were held and mixing with young athletes from all over the world and doing completely different sports, who you would never otherwise meet. That made me realise that I was doing what I liked doing. I still think about it from time to time, especially today, with the young Swiss ski jumpers who will be taking part in the YOG Lausanne 2020. The path they are following now is like mine. They can tell themselves that, by continuing like this, they might end up among the best in the world.
You progressed, but didn't get selected for the Games in PyeongChang in 2018. What happened then?
I'd hoped for a very long time that it was going to happen, throughout the whole season in fact. In the end, I had to face reality: my level wasn't high enough to go; I didn't meet all the criteria; I didn't have enough stability or mental strength. That made me question everything. This is a sport to which I've devoted half of my life; it's what I wanted to do but without reaching the level required, even though I was aiming for those Games. I asked myself why I was doing this sport, and how I could improve.
So you changed everything then?
No, not everything. I took a more professional approach to the sport. I'd already had a personal coach for a year, but even I didn't know how I operated. He helped me get to know myself a bit better, so that I could make progress, especially at the mental level: knowing how to get out of my comfort zone. Physically, I already had the qualities needed, but I had to learn how to put them all together. Another thing is that I'd been sharing a flat for three years, and I never got out of the ski jumping mould. The people I was sharing with were and are jumpers: I went to the jump, and then to the gym, and we talked about jumping. When I went home, we still talked about it. I couldn't "switch off", and that was weighing me down. So I moved.
Your career really took off last winter. Was your first top 10 finish in the World Cup at the Four Hills Tournament in January in Innsbruck the turning point?
Yes it was! I started the season feeling fairly confident thanks to my results the summer before. But there was still some personal uncertainty. I still couldn't properly relax and find that feeling of confidence. It took me a few competitions, but I finally achieved it, and on the hill in Innsbruck, everything came almost naturally. I placed seventh, and that proved to me that I was capable of doing it, and that everything I'd worked on was finally paying off. But there was still some potential, a few details to sort out, so that I was then at 110 per cent in the final, at the World Championships.
And you won the bronze medal at these 2019 World Championships on the large hill…
I think that this was the moment when all the pieces of the puzzle came together. I'd done some super official training sessions in the previous days, and I felt really ready. I was able to work on all the details and take the pressure off. And the competition went so well! My first jump was already a very good one, but I didn't think it would be enough to put me in the top of the group. I tried to stay totally focussed until the second jump, without knowing my result. I bumped into my coach, who told me: "Well, you're in first place!" For the second jump, I had to wait up there all on my own. Then I set off, and I didn't know where I'd come. When I saw "number 3" appear on the screen, that was really fantastic.
The YOG Lausanne 2020 will be bi-national, with the ski jumping events on the hill at Les Tuffes in Prémanon, in the French Jura. Are you very familiar with it?
I've jumped only once on the new hill. So I don't know it that well. But I must have jumped at least 500 times on the old one. We were there every fortnight. As for the new hill, the take-off ramp was totally remodelled; it hasn't got the "old school" quality we knew before. But that's normal; it had to be changed as the jump was…I don't know how old, but pretty old, that's for sure. It was built superbly with a new profile. It's really nice and you can do relatively long jumps. For the junior jumpers and the spectators, it'll be a great show. Really first rate.
Do you think that having it at Les Tuffes in Prémanon was a good choice?
Yes, absolutely. There's nothing at all near Lausanne, so it would have been necessary to start from scratch. So I think it's a great opportunity for Les Tuffes and for Switzerland too! There's an agreement that will allow Swiss Nordic skiing teams to train there. That provides a top-level facility in the border area, which is just fantastic.
You are an ambassador for the YOG Lausanne 2020. What does that involve?
There was a YOG 2020 stand and a ski club stand at the Vallée de Joux fair, and as I belong to both, that was a great moment. My aim was to show the young people that, with a bit of determination, you can reach the top level in the world; and it's not just Austrians or Germans from another planet. I've always been keen to ensure that there is a new generation of ski jumpers, as I know from experience what that represents. And preferably lots of them! There aren't many ski jumpers in Switzerland, so for any child who wants to start, it's a very important opportunity. That's the aim of the YOG: to inspire young people to take up sport. Not necessarily ski jumping, but obviously the next generation of athletes is important in all sports. It's healthy, and what you need to ensure future medals.
Do you think it's important to have the YOG in Lausanne?
They'll be taking place in my region, where I grew up. I'm very moved that the region should be involved in a competition of this importance, precisely for young people. I'm proud to be from Lausanne and to be able to show that it's a great area for producing great champions. During the YOG, in January 2020, I'll be in the midst of the World Cup season; but before that, as soon as there's a chance for me to be in one place or another I'll be happy to take the time to do that.