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How to asses risk correctly

By Thierry Kuhn 

The tightrope artist Freddy Nock explains how to make the right decisions.

People on Social Media show little sympathy for extreme sports athletes who end up in a wheelchair after a paragliding accident or the like. Whilst they evaluate the risk far more seriously than others.

Sure, I also have to live with the fact that something could happen. But if something bad happens, I also know why. You could call it a schizophrenic behaviour of society: at the one hand, there is this craving for sensation and at the other hand, you basically expect that something bad happens. It’s the same for a racing driver or a skier. When something happens, these people are the first to say that it’s their own fault. Maybe the safety measures are being improved, but the sports continue all the same. Furthermore, the spectators expect that events get evermore intense – in each sport. 

So, let’s assess the risks: 

Would you rather…

…drive a car unbelted or walk on a highwire without balancing pole?

I think I already answered this question (laughs). 

…eat an expired yoghurt or bungee jump inside a volcano?

Bungee jump. But there was a time when I didn’t event jump from a 10m diving board – 5m, maybe. However, the direction is also different than on a rope. But today it’s easier, I think I could risk a bungee jump. 

…cross a street blindfolded or basejump from the Titlis?

Basejump from the Titlis. 

…smoke a pack of cigarettes or walk on a tightrope 4 000 m above ground?

I’d rather walk. But I could also smoke on the rope. 

Freddy Nock, high wire artist

Does this make the acquisition of partners and sponsors more difficult?

In the past, it was quite easy to pull something together that appealed to the audience. Today, however, the society questions the importance of something more easily than before. The bigger something gets, the more discussions it entails. This also affects sponsoring. Currently, we struggle with this issue. Just recently, we had a project in the pipeline, which was cancelled later. An accident happened in the US during a show that was produced by the same company. But accidents are part of this sport. When I hurt my finger, we bandage it and I continue. It helps when you have somebody who has your back, who supports and enables a project of yours. 

How about your five-year-old boy?

I don’t have to show him anything or make it tempting for him, I want him to decide for himself. I can share my experiences with him, but he has to decide. He rides a motorcycle and he bikes, he walks on the rope and is into martial arts. He is ambitious, brave, and he makes his own experiences. 

Do you take fewer risks, after so many years in the business?

I have a lot of respect for my job, however after all the positive and negative experiences I made, I became more controlled and careful. I never did something I classed as too risky. Foolishness is when you, as extreme sports athlete, act against your gut instinct. Most athletes stop when they’re 40, but I say that in my discipline it is also possible to continue at my age. Besides, nobody beat me so far. 

Does a live audience procure an extra adrenaline rush?

The audience is like being in a circus. Sure, it’s very motivating when 2,500 people watch my show. World records are nice, but not everything. Above all, I want to do things that have never been done before. Already as a young boy, I wanted to walk up a ropeway. In 1989, I finally did it. Already as a four-year-old, I was walking on the rope and when I was eleven, I went on the high wire. In the course of my career, I was able to make a lot of experiences and complete numerous trainings. In the US, I had up to three shows on the highwire per day. My dream was to cover routes, which were never done before. Make the impossible possible.

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