Sunday 15 December 2019

Ireland's first Olympic skier thriving as Austrian coach

Ireland’s first Olympic skier Pauli Schwarzacher-Joyce now coaches the Austrian slalom team. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland’s first Olympic skier Pauli Schwarzacher-Joyce now coaches the Austrian slalom team. Photo: Sportsfile

Cliona Foley

Exactly 20 years ago Pauli Schwarzacher-Joyce made sporting history as Ireland's first Olympic skier in Nagano, Japan.

Today the 46-year-old can be found living three floors below the Irish team in the athletes' village in Pyeongchang in very different circumstances.

Ireland have just five athletes who wax and sharpen their own skis in the temporary workshop they've set up in their entrance hall.

Austria need 10 full floors to accommodate 108 athletes and their army of technicians and coaches. The trailblazer for Irish alpine skiing is among the latter but still happy to reminisce about his seven years of skiing for Ireland thanks to his Dublin mother, Mary Joyce, from the Stiles Road, Clontarf.

His dad was Austrian and Pauli ('Paul Patrick' on his passport) was born in London, and they moved to St Anton in Austria when he was one but he still has many relatives in Dublin and Westport.

He's not afraid to admit that, as a teenager, he wasn't quite good enough to make the local elite ski academy that produced so many of Austria's superstars.

"I actually switched to snowboarding and then, in my late teens, had a very bad crash. A broken leg that got complicated, needed nine operations and four years out."

By the time he'd recovered he was in college studying sports science and, in 1996, he applied for an International Ski Federation licence to race for Ireland.

"In Nagano it was just the bobsleigh guys and me," he recalls. "We had support from the Irish Olympic committee and there was clothing and a chef de mission, but we were very small.

"I came 15th in the slalom and 27th in the downhill. Compared to Austrian ski racers 15th was terrible but it was good for me, especially as I had no funding, no coach, no technician. For training I used to just free-ski myself!"

He went on the World Cup circuit and was especially delighted to compete again in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City a year after rupturing his cruciate in St Moritz.

He quit racing immediately afterwards, completed his masters and moved into coaching, first with Liechtenstein's Europa Cup team.

A year later he got a job as a strength and conditioning coach with Austria and quickly progressed to technical coaching, now working exclusively with their slalom team.

Today he lives in Salzburg with his wife Julia and their two daughters and this is his sixth consecutive Winter Games - two as an athlete and four as a coach.

So, is there still room for non-Alpine minnows like Ireland, at the Winter Olympics?

"Of course," Schwarzacher-Joyce says. "It's great to have an Irish guy competing in the downhill, it makes it special.

"There's qualification criteria, you have to have those FIS points, so if you manage to do that you are qualified and deserve to be here.

"The Irish are everywhere in the world so there will always be a mix of nationalities like mine. It's great to have those opportunities. I will always remember the opening ceremony in Nagano and carrying the Irish flag at the closing.

"Sport is all about emotion and that's also addictive as a coach," he admits.

"Skiing is Austria's national sport, there is pressure for results but, to have a job where your pulse goes up and you hope for the best and experience this roller-coaster? It is just fantastic."

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport