From Liechtenstein to the top | VailDaily.com

From Liechtenstein to the top

Veronica Whitney

12-4-03 Buechel CS

“It makes it more interesting,” says Buechel, one of the favorites to take the super-G title at the Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek Sunday. “So far, I’ve lost four and I’ve won seven.”

But a bet with his father and another one with Andreas Wenzel, a World Cup ski racer and winner from Liechtenstein, really sparked his ski racing career and has put him in the podium among the best skiers of the world nine times so far.

“When I was 25, my dad told me, “You have to get good, otherwise you have to go to work,'” Buechel says. “Wenzel told me I would never achieve anything in this sport. He said I should rather go rent beach chairs in the French Riviera.

“I was lazy. I wasn’t a fast skier,” he adds. “I chose skiing because I didn’t have to work too hard. And … girls like it.”

Buechel, however, has left the lazy days behind.

These days, he trains year around – mostly with the Swiss ski team -taking just a few weeks of vacation.

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“I didn’t like training, but talent isn’t enough,” says Buechel who started skiing when he was 3-years-old. “To be successful in the World Cup, you have to work very, very hard. Talent, of course helps. Look at Bode Miller, he is incredibly talented.”

Buechel chose to train hard making the two bets a bet with himself.

Heading to the top

Marco Buechel is 32-years-old and in his prime as a ski racer. He is outgoing, about 6-foot-3, blond and as good looking as a prince that would come from his country, a place as big as the Vail Valley where only 32,000 people live.

Although he says he was lazy, last year Buechel, the only downhill and super-G skier for Liechtenstein, took on the responsibility of getting married to Doris, a Swiss aerobic trainer.

“We make a good team. She’s very independent and can keep herself busy when I’m gone,” says Buechel, who is away from home six months of the year.

Buechel, a regular on the World Cup tour since 1995, was seemingly headed for the “What Ever Happened To” section of skiing history when he took a quick detour into the fast lane. In 1999, he won a silver medal in giant slalom at the World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail. That was his first international result of any magnitude.

Then, on Dec. 8, 2002, the Liechtensteiner once again stood in the Birds of Prey finish area with a smile on his face and a cell phone in his hand.

“I wasn’t about to hang up this time,” says Buechel, who in 1999, after winning the silver medal in the Championships in Vail hung up the phone on the Prince of Liechtenstein, who had called to congratulate him. “I was talking to my wife in Florida and every time the crowd went wild, I held up the phone for her to hear.”

Buechel had the lead in the Birds of Prey super-G race with just a handful of skiers able to snatch the title from his grasp. Ironically, it was traveling and training companion Didier Cuche of Switzerland who stole the victory, by a mere 8-hundredths of a second, relegating Buechel to second once again.

“If I had taken this long to win a medal on the Austrian team,” laughed Buechel at the post-race press conference, “I would have been renting beach chairs long ago.”

From 74th to 14th

Buechel’s super-G odyssey does not end there. He capped off the 2002-03 World Cup campaign with a victory in the super-G in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, en route to a second place finish in the season-long World Cup discipline standings.

Overall, he has nine podium finishes in World Cup and World Championship races. That means he beat about 80 skiers per race and 5,000, who are ranked in the world.

Now, he stands second in super-G behind Austrian Stephan Eberharter.

“Skiing is my job,” he says. “And it’s hard work. I’m 32 and I have never missed a season … I’m starting to feel my body.”

Although there’s pressure from the up-and-coming younger racers, older skiers are still some of the toughest competitors, Buechel says.

“In the past, ski racers retired by age 30, but now their racing careers have been extended,” Buechel says.

For example, he added, Paul Accola of Switzerland, who won the bronze medal in the 1999 Championships is 37.

Although he doesn’t know when he’ll retire from ski racing – maybe when he is 36 – Buechel says he’s already saving.

“I have made some money skiing, but what you make compared to other American sports, it’s change,” says Buechel, who laughs when asked if he has made $1 million.

“If you win the overall World Cup, you make about $5 million. When you place fourth, they clap you on the shoulder and say, “Thanks for coming.'”

But for the Liechtensteiner of Vaduz, skiing isn’t about money.

“I love the sport. This is the sport I chose when I was young. And I don’t think about money before a race … maybe I do when I’m in the podium,” he says.

Although he calls the Birds of Prey race course one of the most difficult downhills on the tour, Buechel says he can win on Sunday.

“People have no idea what it takes to ski this course,” he says. “It’s steep for long stretches and there are a lot of technical turns. In order to be fast, you have to be very precise. And I’m a good technical skier.”

To the young athletes in the sport, Buechel recommends that they have fun.

“Being on a ski team is an experience for life,” he says. “As you get older, if you want to get serious, stay focused on the sport.”

Confidence, training and skiing will help conquer the most difficult hills, he says.

“Last year, I started as No. 74 in donwhill and I said I would place 30th,” he says with a confident smile. “And I placed 14th.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.