With three Olympic gold medals and gold twice in World Championships, Vegard Ulvang is among the most successful cross-country skiers of the 1990s. The Norwegian sees cross-country as his vocation. He works for FIS, the International Ski Federation, which means he still has close links to competitive skiing. In this interview Vegard Ulvang reveals that cross-country is a must for his children, and why he put a piglet in Gerhard Thaller’s bed (Thaller was his service man at Fischer).

How did you get connected with Fischer?

My father had known Odd Martinsen when they skied together in Murmansk. When I was 15 I got my first pair of Fischer skis for the Norwegian Championships.

Who was your first contact at Fischer in Ried?

That was Gerhard Thaller. He was always very fair, was actually always on hand, and we had a really good, friendly relationship.

Have you still got the skis you were successful on at home?

I divided them up: Odd Martinsen has got a few in his office, and I have a few at home, too. They’re on the wall in my office at home. I’m not sure if I still have my first pair of skis, which I got at the age of 15 – I doubt it. But I still have the racing skis from Calgary in 1988, Lahti in 1989 and Albertville in 1992.

What was the greatest success in your career?

No doubt about it, the 1992 Olympic Games in Albertville. Those were simply my Games, with three gold and one silver medal. In particular, gold over 30 kilometres was rather special.

Was being a competitive skier simpler in those days?

There was no internet then, and the media weren’t so close to you. Now it’s all live, and you have to be very careful about everything you say, because it’ll have spread all over the web a few minutes later. To be perfectly honest, I’m not at all sure if I should advise my children to go that way. As a contestant you need a thick skin these days, and you have to be aware that today there’s more to being a successful skier than just skiing fast.

„as long as my children live in my house they have to do cross-country.”

Do you recommend cross-country to your children?

As far as cross-country is concerned, they actually have no choice: as long as they live in my house they have to do cross-country. Every Sunday cross-country is on the program. Both girls race, and they really enjoy it.

What was the most important thing you learnt during your active career? It’s good to have friends. When I travel to FIS meetings, I keep meeting old friends I used to ski with. You keep meeting up with people in the skiing business. I have friends all over the world.

What do you particularly like about your work for the FIS?

I learn something new every day, and I meet a lot of interesting people. I’m glad that I still have some influence on the world of cross-country. Taking minor decisions that don’t seem too important at the moment, but will have long-term effects. I find it very interesting to be part of this development. You have to take the responsibility, and you have to be aware that these decisions have consequences. I’m glad that I can give something back to cross-country skiing in this way.

Have you still got good links to Fischer?

Of course the contact is no longer as close as it was earlier, with Gerhard Thaller, but I still have good links. These days I no longer take skis with me on journeys. When I travel to a World Cup I don’t take my own skis along; instead, I’m allowed to walk into the Fischer waxing booth any time and borrow some.

What occurs to you on the subject of Fischer in connection with your skiing career?

Fischer was a necessity for me in my career. I needed skis, and above all excellent quality over a long period. The material is very important, particularly the skis. Some of the time that’s what determines whether you can win or not. I chose Fischer because the quality was absolutely stable for many years. You never got poor material. You were always on the safe side. Excellent products. Of course that also has to do with the people concerned, and with your relationship with them. In this case Gerhard Thaller was in the key position. We were very close, and travelled the cross-country world together. He was simply fantastic.

Any other special story about Fischer that occurs to you?

Oh yes! At the end of one of my last World Cup seasons – I think it was in 1995, near Strbske Pleso – we skied one of the very first invitation sprints the day before a relay race. I’m not sure whether I came second or third – at any rate I was on the podium. And the prize was a live piglet. What on earth were we to do with it? The organisers presumably thought we’d leave the piglet there, but instead we put it in the car and drove off to Strbske Pleso. The stench was appalling. We got there very late and everyone had gone to bed. As it was the last season, we had drunk a few beers – not many, but still a few (laughs). So we went into the individual rooms, opened the door and let the piglet in. Until we got to Gerhard’s door. And there we didn’t just let the piglet into the room, we put it in his bed. He nearly had a heart attack. First we thought it was very funny, but it turned out to be pretty serious. The next day he really had to go to the doctor, after which he travelled straight home.