Špela Rogelj is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable female ski jumpers. Nearly seven years ago, the Slovenian sensationally won the inaugural winter competition in Lillehammer, taking over the World Cup lead as a result. Now it seems that the Olympic season 2021/2022 will most likely be the last in the career of the 26-year-old athlete.
Anna Libera, Bartosz Leja: First things first… How do you feel at the beginning of the Olympic season? What kind of form are you bringing into the summer preparations?
Špela Rogelj: I feel very motivated and, all in all, good. I have a little bit of pain in my left knee, so I am skipping some exercises, but I hope it will be okay soon. On the hill, I am focusing on improving my technique so that I will be stable throughout the whole season.
The Slovenian team has had an incredible last season with the World Cup overall winner Nika Križnar and World Champion Ema Klinec. Is it possible to improve your own performance level while training with the likes of them, or is ski jumping more of an individual sport?
If the team is strong, then each team member also improves their sports performance level. We could see that at the end of the season – my level was getting higher and higher. Of course I would like to be on the same level as Nika and Ema. I am working hard to achieve that and so is the rest of the team.
Your team experienced some rather nerve-racking moments last season that weren’t strictly sports-related – sudden COVID-19 cases raised doubts about whether the Slovenian girls could start in the World Championships. How did that look from your perspective within the team?
I won’t lie, it was a lot of anxiety and some tears, mostly because we couldn’t understand some of the things that were happening. Considering that Nika, Ema and I had all been sick with COVID-19 before the season started, and still, our permission to perform was being questioned… In the end, we still had to deal with everything, and we set our minds back on the competition and our goals.
Ultimately, you managed to win silver in the team event, even though your coach was not there to see it. There were reports about Ema being sick with COVID-19 before the season, but there wasn’t any about you and Nika having had it, too. Was it hard?
Yes, we were sick at the end of October. It was hard mostly mentally, because we couldn’t train.
In that case, I suppose that you can understand Marita Kramer after her difficult situation in Râșnov, which cost her the Crystal Globe. Naturally, Nika deserved to win it, but do you think that Marita’s exclusion can be seen as a bit of a scandal?
Of course, all situations associated with this are extremely hard because you can’t do anything about it. It was tight until the end. Nika was the happiest after the last jump, it was completely deserved. Marita was unlucky with the whole situation in Râșnov, but we don’t write the rules for this COVID process, each country has different rules and we had to accept them, no matter how devastating and hard it was.
Let’s get back to talking about you. I remember your slightly surprising victory in Lillehammer in December 2014. You’d been fourth in the overall standings at that time. What has changed in your attitude to this sport since that time?
Nothing has changed much, only the fact that I expect even more from myself, and that is something that puts too much pressure on me a lot of the time. I love ski jumping, I do it because it brings me satisfaction, and I want to push this sport to an even higher level in Slovenia.
Slovenian media outlets have reported that the Olympic Games in Beijing are your main goal this season, and possibly the last huge goal of your career. Is that true or are you planning to give yourself a some more time?
Yes, my main goal is to be stable throughout the season, to get back on the podium, but of course, the main goal is the Olympic Games. The plan is that this will be my last season.
This may come as a shock for your fans. Do you have plans for your early retirement?
I have a few plans, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Last season, we could see more and more girls around the age of 20 with incredible skills – 24-year-old Sara Takanashi was joined by 21-year-old Nika Križnar and 19-year-old Marita Kramer in the fight for the Crystal Globe. Do you think this is an upcoming trend for young athletes, or do the more experienced girls still have something to say on the hill?
I think both – the sport is developing, so it’s completely normal that young girls are coming and getting better and better, but the other ones have more experience.
You’ve expressed some critical opinions regarding the FIS Council’s decision on ladies’ ski flying. In your opinion, what needs to change in order to convince the decision-makers about it next year?
I think that some of the girls are already ready to ski fly – for example, Daniela Iraschko-Stolz has already done it, and I think she is jumping on a higher level now that she had at that time. I understand that the differences between competitions on large hills are still too big, and that was one of the reasons for the decision. However, if we want to move forward, we have to take a step forward. Hopefully the competition in Willingen will be a good promotion for ski flying.
Those opposing ladies’ ski flying name the safety of less experienced jumpers as an argument. If you had the possibility, would you jump on the ski flying hill without any excessive fear?
I agree that at the moment it’s not for all the girls, but each of us can decide to go or not to – for example, Marius Lindvik decided not to go ski flying this year. I think that there is some danger in every sport. And also in everyday life, you face many dangerous situations. Of course, one of my dreams is to fly on a ski flying hill, and if I would be ready (well-prepared mentally and physically), I would go.
So maybe the perspective of ski flying in 2023 may change your career plans…?
Well, I don’t think so, but you never know.
Lastly, I would like to ask you about some personalities in women’s ski jumping that stand out from the rest. Do you get the impression that girls like you with your social media popularity, Maren Lundby with her gender equality activities, or Juliane Seyfarth with her Playboy photo shoot contribute to making ladies’ ski jumping more popular?
There is always a limit with these kinds of things. But, of course, we need ladies with strong personalities who express their opinions and stand up for them. Maren has done so much with her equality activities, and also all other activities she’s engaging in for the sake of women’s ski jumping. I really admire her for that.
Anna Libera, Bartosz Leja