One of the most dramatic sporting events of the past week was the huge fall of Barnabás Szőllős, the sixth Olympic champion Hungarian alpine skier, who competed in Israel during a training session of the downhill skiing race in Kitzbühel. He was taken to hospital by ambulance and operated on. The 25-year-old gave his first interview to Sportal after his accident.
– A colleague of mine, who was riding a motorbike at the time and had a crutch in his leg, once said: “All motorbike riders fall; it’s just a question of when and how much.” That goes for skiers too, doesn’t it?
– So much so that we skiers say the same thing, at least in the fast disciplines of downhill and Super G.
– So the question is: have you ever had a serious crash before?
– Yes, back at the 2019 World Junior Championships in Italy. I fell in the Super G and crashed into the net at 100 km/h. Apart from a couple of bruises, I survived the fall.
– Until now…
– There were some falls in between, but they were not big, not worth mentioning.
– What exactly happened? It’s not clear from the video.
– It happened on the first big jump of the course, Mausefalle. The jump was fine, but when I got down and prepared for the next corner, the end of my skate got stuck in a hole, which twisted my leg and tore my ankle ligament. After that, the fall was inevitable (see video).
– It was particularly scary for us laymen that his helmet came off immediately…
– But that’s how it’s designed. It has a plastic hoop that holds the strap on. That’s what broke. But that’s good because you can’t get caught in the net and strangle yourself with the strap or rip your head off.
– Aleksandr Aamodt Kilde, the Norwegian star who had a huge fall in Wengen a few days earlier, said he had terrible thoughts when he fell. You too? What do you even remember?
– Fortunately, nothing. I remember the start, but next time, I remember waking up in the intensive care unit at the clinic in Innsbruck. And I say: at least it didn’t hurt until then…
– What injuries did you eventually suffer?
– My face is fractured in several places, my skull bone is cracked where it meets my cheekbone, and my jaw is actually torn off. Four titanium plates were screwed in to fix the fractures: one next to and under my left eye, and two were used to fix my lower jaw.
– What did the doctors say: you were lucky, considering what happened?
– Yes. Twelve years ago, the Austrian Hans Grugger fell in the same place (see video); only while I hit the ground face first did his headland on the side, and he suffered permanent damage.
– So you don’t have to worry about that?
– Fortunately not, but I will obviously bear the scars of that day on my face. It’s more around my eyes because the metal that holds my jaw in place was cut open from the inside of my mouth, so there’s no external trace of it.
– Will the titanium plates be “in your head” forever?
– For six months, for sure, then I will have to decide whether to have another operation to get rid of them. However, it also depends on whether it will bother me when I put my glasses and helmet back on. If so, I’ll agree to the operation.
– About a week after what happened, how much does it hurt?
– During the day, when I move or sit, there is no problem as the blood flows downwards. However, at night, even if I prop myself up when I sleep, it goes to my head, and I feel it swelling all the time. It is very uncomfortable.
– He was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday afternoon and is now recovering in Murau. Maybe I should know, but I ask: do you live there?
– We grew up there because we went to ski school there. We still spend the winters in Murau: we train here, we go to competitions here. So I’m still here with my family and my girlfriend.
– Is she really scared?
– She wasn’t at the race. She only saw it on tape. Of course, she must have been worried, but she’s used to seeing it because she skis.
– Does the fear stay with you?
– I don’t know yet. I’ll feel it when I ski again. After my big fall at the World Championships five years ago, I didn’t compete in the combined, not because of fear, but because I had a sore leg and shoulder.
– Then, as I understand it, he is preparing to continue his career.
– Yes, although it is a problem now, I don’t have enough points to compete in the World Cup next season. In fact, even if I could return at the end of this season, I’m certainly not in a condition to make up for it. So next winter, there will be the European Cup and other FIS races, and I will have to work my way back to the World Cup.
– On his last day in hospital, he was visited by the race director Peter Eder from Kitzbühel, who presented him with a “69” jersey. This is a bit strange for me because it reminds me of a very bad thing.
– I was happy because I collect the jerseys, they are hung in the corridor at home. As Kitzbühel is a legendary place, this is particularly precious. Besides, it’s a brand-new jersey, not the one I raced in. The doctors cut it off. But I’ve got the two pieces I cut up, the shoulder is covered in blood, it will look even better on the wall.