In 2016 ski jumper Peter Prevc was at the apex of his powers, dominating the sport like no other before him. Then came an abrupt and psychologically devastating performance decline. Now, recovering from an injury that marked the nadir of a dismal period of his life, the erstwhile champion is ready for a comeback.
"The ideal scenario? Victory in Wisla," Prevc told the STA in reference to the 17 November season opener in Poland, fresh from a two-week spa recovery to heal an ankle injury that required two surgeries and kept him from training for six months.
That would be a dream comeback for the 24-year-old, who last stood on the podium at two team events in March. He has managed some top-three finishes in the past two seasons, but his performance was a far cry from the 2015/2016 season.
That year he won the prestigious Four Hills Tournament, 15 World Cup events in total and topped it off by becoming the ski flying world champion, a feat that nobody before or since has managed in this sport.
The ever modest former champion is cautious, however, and admits anything could happen when he returns to jumping.
"Until I've been on the hills for at least three weeks, seen at least a bit where I stand ... I cannot really say anything. Perhaps I will compete in the World Cup, perhaps the Continental Cup, or perhaps even the Slovenian Cup."
Prevc had his first ankle surgery in April to remove a bone growth that was hampering his flexibility. He then quickly returned to training, but the ankle got worse and required a second surgery in July.
Prevc says that after the two-week programme, he is now able to do mock jumps. "The coaches are saying it's not as bad as they expected and that I can hit the hills next week if everything is fine."
"Finally this thing is ending. It has lasted almost half a year," he added.
He plans to pick the Villach hill for his first serious jumps, because the way the hill is designed the landing is on a steep section and therefore soft.
"The purpose of these jumps is to gain some self-esteem and if there are any major mistakes to correct them a bit," he says.
Prevc was visibly struggling when his form collapsed and was open about how he was affected personally and psychologically. Now, he is finding motivation in the small steps.
"Now the motive is the sense you get when you try something new one day, put pressure on your leg and find the next day that there is nothing wrong."
"The motive is also being fully mobile, walking normally down the stairs, being able to run," he said.
Asked whether he was ever considering calling it quits, Prevc says "absolutely not". "But of course you ask yourself what will be, and then you look and think, and in the end you say: if I don't at least try, I'll never know."
While Prevc has struggled professionally, personally he has also had turbulence, albeit of a different sort: in spring, he became a father.
"Ludvik is four months old now. We're having a great time but I'm noticing I don't have time for myself any more [laughter]. My son's birth has definitely opened up a new dimension. I used to think only of myself before, now I have a being who is utterly dependent on me. This makes me even more eager to return home."