Inside Wladimir Klitschko's training camp - the closest thing to a fairytale outside of Disneyland

Declan Taylor
Wladimir Klitschko fights Anthony Joshua later this month: Getty

Leave Munich airport and head south for an hour before crossing the border into Austria. Delve 50km deeper into the Tirol mountains and you are getting close. Welcome to Stanglwirt - training base of Wladimir Klitschko and the closest thing to a fairytale outside of Disneyland.

The 41-year-old all-time-great from the Ukraine has been operating from this small ‘Bio-Hotel’ since 2003 with near-perfect results. In fact, during the past 12 years, 22 tried and 22 failed to dethrone the undisputed king of the big men, until Tyson Fury genuinely shocked the world in November 2015.

But Klitschko, a challenger for the first time in over a decade, is now back in his alpine retreat, all Lederhosens and naked saunas, as he prepares to take on Anthony Joshua for the IBF and WBA heavyweight titles on April 29. Defeat that night at Wembley could realistically make this trip to Stanglwirt his last.

So, despite the resort's other guests endlessly shuffling around in white flannel robes and slippers, it seems like the perfect setting for the former champion to roll out the mountain metaphor that he is using to describe his situation in the time since he was conquered by Fury.

“Please excuse me as this may sound arrogant,” he says with a flash of his politician smile. “But, for example, a parallel: Mount Everest. The highest mountain in the world.

“It's been there for a long time and will be there for a long time. You can climb it during a certain period of time - during two weeks in April I believe. You can get to the top and say 'I conquered Everest!' Then you've got to run down because it's going to take you down if you miss the time.

“A lot of people died there. Some made it, not many, but some made it back. But Mount Everest is still there. Is Mount Everest defeated? It's still there and it's going to take another life this April.”

Joshua's knockouts are played on a loop on TVs around the training base (Getty)

That may be so but it is clear that Klitschko is past his peak. Even before that defeat to Fury, he struggled to get past the small and relatively light-punching Bryant Jennings with a lacklustre showing in New York seven months previous.

It’s fair to say that his last genuinely good performance was way back in November 2014 when he stopped Kubrat Pulev in the fifth round of their contest in Hamburg.

Naturally, he prepared for that one in Stanglwirt and invited for sparring a giant novice pro from London who had claimed gold in the London 2012 Olympics. Joshua, even then, stood out for Klitschko.

“Obviously sometimes there are up to 15 sparring partners in every camp,” he explains. “People are coming and going and some of them I don’t remember.

“But I remember Joshua - he impressed me with his attitude. He was very raw but he was the Olympic champion, he carried himself well, I liked his attitude.

“He was in the background and learning. Sometimes you need to be quiet and just watch. He was observing everything. That is unusual.

“I had Olympic champions and former world champions in my camp but his attitude was totally different. He was not trying to impress anybody. He backed off, he was sitting on the side, not talking too much. He was watching, learning, asking questions. He was very polite. He was different to the others.

“He didn’t see everything back then but he got to know where I train, how I train, the rules. He got the vibe.”

At the time, the setup made a huge impression on then 7-0 Joshua and it’s easy to see why. Stanglwirt, in the small skiing village of Going am Wilden Kaiser, must be the sparring partner’s dream.

High in the Tirolean Hills, the sprawling collection of pine-clad suites is run by an impossibly friendly staff of men in Lederhosen and women in Dirndl dresses. The resort has been open for 250 years and they claim to have not closed the doors for a single day since.

Klitschko takes over a set of tennis courts for the boxing part of his workout (Getty)

Inside, a stable containing a number of horses juts out into the hotel’s main bar area while a live yodeller serenades diners at one of the hotel's restaurants two floors down.

Most bizarre, however, is the steak joint in which giant, live cows, separated by only a thin screen of perspex, loiter alongside the beef-eating guests.

In the main, meanwhile, Klitschko's sparring partners are supplied with a hot buffet each night away from the resort's paying customers. For this camp, Gerald Washington, fresh from his unsuccessful challenge for Deontay Wilder's WBC belt in February, is among them.

When he's not swimming in one of Stanglwirt's many pools, or lifting weights in the state-of-the-art fitness gym, Klitschko does his actual boxing work in a tennis court. For such a perfectly organised routine, that fact seems strange.

A full-size ring is erected in the middle of the court whenever Klitschko comes to stay while a collection of punch bags hang from the high ceiling. Any guests wishing to play tennis on this court during his training camps are left disappointed.

Large flatscreen televisions are erected on each side of the ring, showing videos of Anthony Joshua's greatest hits. While he trains, Klitschko does not stop and watch but each and every crushing knock-out, played on a loop, is always only a sideways glance away for the veteran heavyweight, who has been stopped three times in his long and successful career.

As Marvin Gaye's ‘Let’s Get It On’ plays, a young Ukrainian amateur dons his headguard and has his gloves gaffer-taped tightly round the wrists before climbing into the ring for a round of light sparring. Klitschko, with a t-shirt which reads '#obsessed', uses the round to work on his defence while only occasionally catching his smaller foe with a forward raid of his own.

Klitschko admitted he is 'obsessed' in reclaiming his titles (Getty)

Next, he hits the pads with far more venom as his trainer, Johnathon Banks, quietly and succinctly delivers the instructions. With three weeks to go, there is much hard work still to do but Klitschko already looks in supreme shape. He did, however, before facing Fury, too.

“The way it is now,” he explains. “Coming after that defeat, I have a totally different attitude, desire and obsession. I am obsessed.

“I totally get Anthony Joshua. I see how he breathes, how he sees things and his instincts. I do compare myself with him. We are different but there are a lot of similar things.

“Can the young guy make it? Has the older guy still got it? I have questions myself. I had a break, the longest in my 27 years in boxing. Is it bad, is it good? Will I have rust? We'll see. I want the answers myself.”

The young man at reception could not look more delighted to be at work.

“Many thank yous for your stay with us,” he says at check-out, picking up a small, grapefruit-sized package wrapped in brown paper.

“Now take this handmade, artisan loaf of bread as a gesture of good will from everyone here at Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt.”

Should April 29 end boxing's association with this scarcely-believable retreat forever, it will definitely be missed.

Sky Sports Box Office will show Joshua v Klitschko exclusively live on 29 April. To book go to www.skysports.com/joshua

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