Since 1986, Wolfgang Schaedler of Liechtenstein has been the head coach of the United States Luge Team. During that time he has guided team members to four Olympic and 13 world championship medals. His doubles sliders have also won four overall world cup titles. Schaedler is particularly respected for his talent of designing and building fast sleds in his workshop near his home in the small alpine village of Triesenberg.
When did you start designing and building sleds?
I'm a machinist by trade and was always interested in technology. The last three or four years I was sliding I started to get more and more into building sleds. It was a necessity in those days. You could buy sleds from an Austrian company but they were very basic. Sleds need to fit your needs and sliding style and this is why I got into it. To be successful your equipment has to be up to par and I grew more and more into this part of the sport over the years.
It seems to be a highly complex science but can you describe a little bit about what goes into designing and building competitive luge sleds?
Obviously, a lot of it is experience. You have to be innovative and try new things. There will be failures and you need to learn from them. You learn what you have to look for and then it is basically evolution and experience - incorporating new ideas, new technology and new materials.
Last February at the World Championships in Lake Placid, Erin Hamlin set a new track record and won a gold medal ending Germany's long winning streak in the sport. What do you think this accomplishment meant to Erin as well as yourself and USA Luge?
It was unbelievable obviously. She probably still doesn't realize how much she has done and what she has accomplished. For me it was the end of a long path. The Germans won 99 races in a row. Everybody started to believe that they were unbeatable. I knew otherwise.
Can you tell us what have been your greatest moments and proudest achievements as head coach of the U.S. Luge team?
I think the first great moment was the first international medal that we won in Sarajevo in 1987. There were actually two there and never before had the United States medaled in luge. Next was when Wendel Suckow won our first world championship in Calgary in 1993. That was a great accomplishment and then obviously our first Olympic medals in Nagano 1998 (silver and bronze in doubles).
Looking at the roster of this team it seems that there is a nice mix of experience and youth. What do you think is the team's potential in Vancouver?
It's a great team, but obviously it is not yet set for the Olympics. We have to go through the qualification process. I like that we have experienced people and also young athletes. It's always good. I think everybody has a chance to do well and if you look at the girls we have a very deep field. Anyone who fights through the qualifications should be ready for the Olympics.
The United States' four Olympic medals have all been in doubles and never any in singles. How come?
I think for a while with doubles we had a couple of very good teams -- Chris Thorpe and Gordy Scheer and Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin -- and they really pushed each other. That is usually the key to success. You look at the German program and they have a lot of competitive people pushing each other forward.
When not building sleds or thinking about coaching, what do you do for fun?
It's a full-time job and you always have to think about it. But I bought a motorcycle two years ago in Lake Placid, a nice Harley. I take a ride and I can forget everything. I really enjoy riding mountain passes with my bike and wife. This is what I do when I'm not doing luge I guess.
What is the best part about living in the village of Triesenberg, right in the heart of the Alps?
It's home and of course very familiar. I live up on the mountainside -- we call the people down in the valley "flatlanders." We have great views and obviously it's very central -- you are close to Munich and Zurich if you need to go. But it's so nice to hike in the mountains and enjoy days outside.
You represented Liechtenstein at three Winter Olympics: 1984 in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, 1980 in Lake Placid and 1976 in Innsbruck, Austria. What were some of your memories and experiences from each of those games?
I think in Innsbruck we were still just young boys. We qualified for the Olympics but didn't have that much experience then. It was overwhelming. Maybe it was too soon for us to be there but we walked away with a lot of experience like how professional you need to be to make it to the top.
The second was Lake Placid and it was obviously unbelievable as a European to go to North America for those Olympics. I was injured in the fall before '80 but I still did really well at the European World Championships that year. The race in Lake Placid didn't go so well, but you learn from your mistakes.
In Sarajevo I
was pretty much at the world-class level. I ended up fourth or fifth at
the European Championships the week before. I was in the top five or
six in the world that year, but again I put too much pressure on myself
and ended up only 11th. I should have been closer to the top, but
sometimes you try to do too much.
That's what I learned over the years and try to teach my athletes. The Olympics are a race like any other race. As long as you treat it that way, you will be successful. If you think that you have to do more than you are lining yourself up for failure.
Vancouver will be your seventh Olympics as a head coach and tenth total. Is it still exciting for you to get to the track for that first day of training and to the Games?
Every one is different obviously. You are under a lot of pressure especially as a coach and it is not always enjoyable. It is very exciting but the most important thing is to keep the emotions under control and you want your athletes to do the same. You have to stay level, believe what you can do and not overdo things to be successful.
- Brian Pinelli