The Sochi Network

50 to watch: Fit-again Feuz back to Sochi to surprise

In the run up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Reuters is highlighting the athletes to watch during the Games.

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Having undergone 10 knee surgeries since 2008, Switzerland's Beat Feuz naturally considers his Winter Olympics qualification a "miracle" and the 26-year-old will return to the Sochi slopes next month hoping to spring a surprise.

Feuz, one of skiing's top talents, was the first to win a World Cup downhill race on the Olympic piste in Sochi in February two years ago. A month later, a knee injury threw him off the race circuit for 20 months.

"At some point at the hospital, my comeback to the competition was uncertain," Feuz told Reuters.

"I was so happy to be back in my element. It was a little bit like the first time seeing your girlfriend after a long absence."

Feuz had knee surgery during the off season in 2011-12 but he suffered from inflammation and bleeding at the articular capsule. He had to stay in hospital for weeks until December 2012 and missed the whole 2012-13 season.

"I'll ski without any pressure at Sochi. I already have my qualification in the pocket. That's a miracle," Feuz said, adding his 2012 Sochi victory was an advantage. "I know how to win there."

Feuz, who has been plagued by injury, has cartilage missing in one knee and only has parts of his meniscus left, making skiing at high speed potentially unstable and painful.

Nicknamed 'Kugelblitz' - 'ball-lightning' in German - for his speed and short, previously chubby physique, Feuz won multiple junior world champion titles in 2007 and was dubbed a "phenomenal talent" before his injuries.

Many expected he would become a worthy successor to now-retired Swiss veteran Didier Cuche. At 26, he can still fulfill those expectations.

Having been injured in 2010, Sochi will be Feuz's first Olympic Games.

Feuz has already showed in the 2011-12 season what he is capable of. He came second in the overall world cup behind Austria's Marcel Hirscher, winning a classic downhill race in Wengen and a Super-G in Val Gardena.

Feuz, who sometimes struggles with technical events, then decided not to enter the final race as he did not think he could make enough points to beat Hirscher.

Feuz spent his last season on the other side of the fence, writing a column for a Swiss daily. He only had his comeback in late November last year and his performance since then is already raising hopes for his country.

Since his comeback, Feuz bagged a sixth place in the Beaver Creek downhill even after twisting his knee on the last right-curve, luckily with no damage to the leg this time.

Feuz grew up on a farm in Emmental right next to the ski lift where his father worked. He has emerged as one of the World Cup's clowns, taking huge pleasure in practical jokes on his colleagues, like swapping salt for sugar.

Feuz knows what injuries can do to an athlete's career. His girlfriend, Kathrin Triendl, a former Austrian slalom specialist, had to quit in 2010 after rupturing a cruciate ligament.

He appeared to have found the right person to guide him after Sepp Brunner, previously the Swiss team's coach, became his personal trainer last year.

In one of his previous jobs, Brunner coached Sonja Nef at a time when many thought her career was over because of knee problems.

The Giant Slalom specialist went on to win 14 of her 15 world cup races under Brunner and became 2001 World Champion before grabbing a bronze at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

"Sepp believed in me (throughout the injuries). How important this was to me," said Feuz. "He knew that when I would be pain free, being there to race wouldn't be a dream anymore."