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Austria’s top athletes

Meet two of Austria’s best-known sportsmen, conquering everything from peaks to lakes

Austria’s top athletes
Hans-Peter Steinacher and Peter Habeler. Illustration: NikNeves

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Hans-Peter Steinacher
Olympic medal-winning sailor

In Zell am See-Kaprun, where I’m from, it’s all about sports. It’s how we grow up. It’s one of the big advantages of the area: here, I can do 32 different sports. And I’ve tried nearly all of them — just not synchronised swimming.

I’m very proud of the area where I live and the opportunity it gives me to be active. We have some great lakes, with excellent breezes. One of the best is Lake Neusiedler. Close to Vienna, it’s only 5ft deep, and perfect for smaller boats; it offers challenging conditions.

You have to stay patient if you want to get into sailing. There are so many ups and downs, you can’t imagine. Every time you’re successful, there’s probably a down on its way. You have to take the lows as an opportunity to raise yourself up again to an even higher level.

It’s funny, winning your first Olympic medal. At first, you don’t realise what you’ve done. It feels normal. We won the gold in Sydney, and four years later we won the gold in Athens. Then we went on to the games in Beijing and didn’t have a good week — we ended up in sixth place. It was only then that we realised how great our previous achievement was.

As an athlete, the most important thing for me is when you leave home to compete and your family understands what you’re doing: that you’re sailing for your passion, your job. Their support is very important. They can sail with you — not in person, but with their heart.”

Peter Habeler
Mountaineer

I’m sitting in my house in the Zillertal Valley, in Tirol, looking out over these incredible peaks that surround me. The sun is on them, they’re snow covered. I get a kick just from looking at them. I’m not so young anymore but I’m happy to still go up and do difficult climbs and hikes.

Everest was a challenge: in 1978, I was the first climber, along with Reinhold Messner, to make the ascent without supplemental oxygen. Then there’s Kangchenjunga. It’s the third highest peak in the world; climbing that meant a lot to me. But I couldn’t pick a favourite because all these peaks have become friends of mine now, whether it’s Everest, or Kangchenjunga, or Cho Oyu or Hidden Peak. I feel the whole world is my home because of the mountains.

If you’re going to climb, you have to get in good shape. You also need respect for nature; it’s the strongest thing there is. Above all, you need to be lucky. I have a small Dzi stone necklace — from Tibet. It’s precious, sacred — it’s found in the rivers there. The Dalai Lama has one, too.

There’s a documentary being made about my life, and we’ve shot a lot already. To top off the film, I will repeat the Eiger North Face with David Lama — one of the world’s top climbers, from Austria, also. We’re just waiting for the right conditions. But the Dzi stone will get me up there, I tell you.”

Published in the Austria 2017 guide, distributed with the April 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)