Luis on Ski Jumping Hill Tournament: World Cup 2013-2014 special
In a special edition for the World Cup opening in Klingenthal, our columnist Luis Holuch is looking out onto the ski jumping winter 2013-2014. Including an interview with Eurosport expert Hans-Peter Pohl.
Luis on Ski Jumping Hill TournamentBy Ski Jumping Hill Archive author and photographer Luis Holuch
Exactly 70 days before the Olympic Winter Games 2014 in Sochi (RUS), the ski jumping season 2013/2014 is about to begin. The kings of the air travel four months around the world to find the best athletes among them. This is an occasion for our columnist Luis Holuch to give a preview. Have fun with this special episode of “Luis on Ski Jumping Hill-Tournament”!
World Cup opening premiers at Klingenthal
80 athletes from 18 nations, even Greece and the Ukraine among them, came to Klingenthal in Saxony for the first World Cup-weekend of this winter. This is a premiere, because the ski jumping world cup opening never took place here. About 15.000 spectators are expected, so around the triple of the number we have in Kuusamo (Finland) where the opening took place for many years. This is the main reason why we will be here: the spectator number. Vogtland-Arena, Klingenthal’s ski jumping arena, is excited for the beginning. Around six week ago, the summer grand-prix ended here. With a German competition and overall victory by Andreas Wellinger.
This guy from Upper Bavaria is just 18 years old, still goes to school. Found by national coach Werner Schuster in summer 2012, the young gaily boy established himself in the world-class elite. He jumped constant like an experienced man in the top 20 of the World Cup. And this boy is the legitimate follow-up of Andreas Wank as summer grand-prix overall winner. But even in his case there is the question: will he be good enough in winter as well or will he make the same experience as Wank and will be out of the focus?
Instead of having -10 degrees Celsius, the circuit starts in Klingenthal with temperatures about the freezing temperature. A snow depot is the reason for the opportunity of this event. The whole ski jumping world is going to watch. The female colleagues as well. On the next weekend, the Nordic Opening will take place at Kuusamo. Kuusamo and Klingenthal have some similarities: the ski jumps are large, not easy to jump and the wind can say “hello” at every minute.
Ladies step in at Lillehammer
From the second largest large hill, the journey will continue to an Olympic Normal Hill, a HS100. There, the ladies will be part of the World Cup for the first time in this winter: the first mixed-competition of the season is on schedule. A new, but very attractive, because suspenseful, discipline which was installed in the last winter by the International Ski Federation (FIS). A lady and a man will be starting in a change. Two ladies and two men in every team.
While the ladies will have a break after their first two (mixed and single) events, the men will not be able to go away from Germany. They will travel to Titisee-Neustadt. In the best years of Sven Hannawald and Martin Schmitt, up to 30,000 people stood here. In the last years, only COCs (Continental-Cups) took place here caused by the bad years the German ski jumping had. But since the Austrian Schuster is responsible for the team, it is going really well. Olympic Silver medal in the team competition plus the team silver medal at the Ski Flying World Championships 2012 in Vikersund (NOR) – where no competition will be held – are the greatest achieves since a long time. “Just an Olympic gold medal is missing. The time has come”, said Schuster a few days ago.
But there are nations which are against the German plans and wishes. The Austrians are always named first, but they did not act that dominant like in the past years. The fourth member of the team is mostly their problem. In the past winter, the team did not manage to jump on the podium in five events. The opposite are the Slovenes: in team competitions always good and with a lot of appetite on medals. They have a strong team including veterans like Robert Kranjec and Jernej Damjan and newcomers like Jurij Tepeš, Peter Prevc und Matjaz Pungertar. Defect: they never have been strong on normal hills. In contrast to the Polish guys. Kamil Stoch, Piotr Zyla and Maciej Kot went into the world-class last season. The size of the hill usually does not matter for them. But they need to get in shape at first. In the last season it took the whole first period (till Engelberg) since they jump their whole quality.
For this named competitions at Switzerland – traditionally the weekend before Christmas - , it would be too late. Here, local hero Simon Ammann wants to show the world that no one instead of him is the favourite on the single events at Sochi. But this will not be an easy task. The Swiss is hill record holder, but his last victory was four years ago. Last year, the Austrians dominated the whole weekend: on Saturday Andreas Kofler and Wolfgang Loitzl were both the winner, on Saturday World Cup overall-winner Gregor Schlierenzauer.
On the same weekend, the World Cup will be continued for the ladies. The journey stops at Hinterzarten on the Rothaus-Schanze. Daniela Iraschko-Stolz will be back at the place, where she had the heaviest fall in her life. In the last winter – as Daniela Iraschko – she suffered from a crucial ligament rupture and missed the world championships at Val di Fiemme and the huge World Cup-final at Oslo. The host, ski-club Hinterzarten, will do anything possible for having a nice event. This weekend is probably the last chance to show the FIS that it is a taboo to “steal” Hinterzarten the summer grand-prix-event.
Four Hills Tournament always a highlight
The thought, to quit a tradition is simply not possible if one is thinking about the Four-Hills-Tournament (4HT). This event is a spectator’s magnet and is in big public’s interest, especially because of the knock-out-modus and the traditional dates (29th of December, 1st of January, 4th and 6th of January). The media says that we are right in front of the most exciting 4HT in history. That is not a miracle if we look at the line-up. Constance is the most important thing at the 4HT, it is simply necessary to be the winner.
Here, we have to talk about the Norwegians, especially about their best athlete Anders Bardal. There is one of the most solid jumpers – if we talk about results – under the Superman-shirt. Bardal is not a solid jumper with reference on his body. He is skinny, always close to the BMI-limit. But he has a jumping style which is not attackable from nature and the reason for good distances.
But we have the fear that not many people will notice that there are again competitions for the ladies. They travel to Chaikovsky (RUS) on the 4th and 5th of January. It will be the World Cup premiere on the Snezhinka (snow-flake) there. Like everywhere, there could be only one name to be on the first place: Sara Takanashi. The 1,48m small Japanese dominated all opponents like she wanted to in the past winter and summer. Even with her small height and body area, she is explosive at the table, solid in the air and a stylistic attraction. No one is doing such a soft telemark on the snow or plastic mattings like the 16-year-old girl from Hokkaido.
Her biggest opponent Sarah Hendrickson will miss the competitions till the end of January caused by a crucial ligament rupture. She probably will not be a danger for Takanshi in the overall-ranking of the World Cup. And also the lady who stole Takanshi’s probable victory in Hinterzarten and in addition to that also the hill record is going to miss some competitions. Alexandra Pretorius has the same injury as Hendrickson. She might be back for the Olympic Games. This could be the chance for Iraschko-Stolz or maybe Coline Mattel. The young French lady was able to compete with Takanshi from time to time, in summer not that well.
Traditional stage in Japan: Sapporo
But especially at home in Japan – the place where the next competitions will take place then – Takanshi is hardly beatable. Firstly because of the home advantage and secondly because of the journey stresses and strains, which will be appearing to some athletes. The way from Russia is not that long, but it is still about dealing with that. While the ladies are jumping on a faraway continent (for us at night), the men will run riot at the Kulm ski flying hill. Here, the specialist will play the main roles. Their names are: Kranjec, Schlierenzauer, Koch (if he will be in team) and also the Norwegians. The German hopes will be on the shoulders of Michael “Sali” Neumayer and Richard “Richie” Freitag. Both are, respectively have been, German national record holder. Freitag has to deal with a broken metatarsus. So we have to wait if he is getting in shape, the others usually do not even need a good shape.
After the flying weekend, the small Polish tournament is on schedule. It consists of a night event at Wisła plus a single- and team-event at Zakopane. The Wielka Krokiew and the Normal Hill there shall be venues of the Olympic Games 2022. After Munich will not be candidate city for this event, Krakow (as host) has got higher chances. Zakopane is well-known for a lot of snow and enthusiastic fans. In addition to that the atmosphere in the darkness is unique.
Unique as well is the shortness of the name Zao. This is the place where the ladies will be jumping meanwhile at the same weekend (18th and 19th of January). In the last winter, the athletes experienced an earthquake (6.9 on Richter’s scale) and irregular conditions during the first competition. We can just hope that everything will be fine like in Sunday’s competition last winter. It will be an interesting journey, because that will be the first competitions after the renovation of the Yamagata-hill. This hill received a new inrun and a new profile and is just used in winters.
The men will have a short intermezzo at Saporro in the following week, while the ladies will be back in Europe. Their next stop is Ljubno, Slovenia. Frenetic fans and one of the most scurrile ski jumps in this world are waiting for the girls. Mostly for their country-ladies. With having Katja Pozun in their team, the Slovenians have the 3rd overall-ranked athlete of this year’s summer grand-prix. But that is not everything: it does not matter if we talk about the experienced Maja Vtic and Eva Logar or the young bright hopes such as Urša Bogataj, Ema Klinec oder Špela Rogelj. They all are able to jump at least under the top 10. In last winter, the 19-year-old Rogelj was able to jump two times on rank 4 and 6. One of both ranks, she achieved in Ljubno.
And even in the Austrian place Hinzenbach, you have to take a closer look on the team around Anja Tepeš (daughter of Miran and so sister of Jurij), especially because they do some training here. At the same time, the men will compete as well: in Willingen. The host is hoping for good weather, because one competition was cancelled due to strong wind at last year’s Team Tour. With a new judges’ tower and new floodlights, 30,000 fans shall experience a spectacular weekend. This is the last World Cup-weekend before Sochi 2014.
WOlympic Winter Games at Sochi in February
Then, the biggest highlight of this winter comes. You cannot really do a forecast on this event. There are just results on the Normal Hill from past year. They do not have much content. Andreas Wellinger, 2nd place at that weekend, said: “I am not a friend of the hill’s profile”. But then there is the question: what is going to happen if he is friend with this ski jump? If we talk about the large hill events, we have to conclude that there are no experience dates from this hill, because it could not be used for World Cup events last winter due to too less snow. Maybe, but we really have to underline this word maybe, there are some statistics from summer jumps.
I asked Hans-Peter Pohl – Olympic Gold Medal winner and world champion and now expert for Eurosport - in how far they could be helpful for the winter. His answer was: “there will always be differences between summer and winter. The reason are the natural circumstances. If we have 25 or 30 degrees Celsius in winter, the air buffer consists only of this heat. And that is totally different than the air by 0 degrees or even lower temperatures. There could be a psychological advantage if the athlete knows he was good. But all in all, that are two different things.” Means: we cannot make any predictions; but that is the fact which creates this special suspense of the Olympic competitions.
Four gold medals will be given away. After a long fight, the women received a single-event, on the Normal Hill. In general, the athletes are really excited for this event including presenting themselves in front of millions of people and competing for official Olympic medals. This decision is a document for the positive development of ladies’ ski jumping of the past few years. Hans-Peter Pohl is fascinated by this sport, because “ski jumping is in general a sports full of action. You need to be brave for do this sport. But the girls bring a soft element into this sports with their outward appearance and their jumping technique. We should be excited about how the development continues. I am sure that it has not found its end”.
Next stop is Scandinavia
The same goes for the rest of the season. The ride starts again after Sochi very fastly. The men will travel to Scandinavia for the Nordic Tournament. In Falun, host city of the FIS Nordic-Ski World Championships 2015, the last rehearsal for this event will take place on the renovated Lugnet-ski jump at Feburary 26th. The journey continues in Lahti (FIN). On the 1st of March, the competition takes place on the home hill of Janne Ahonen. The insatiable “king-eagle” started comeback number 2 in summer and presented himself in well shape. He finished the summer grand-prix in Klingenthal on a fantastic rank 3. Only Wellinger and Andreas Kofler have been better than the veteran. Veteran is a good point: there is a veteran which starts in his – in our mind’s eyes – 95th season. The 41-year-old Japanese is an idol. He experienced the style change from parallel- to V-style and is jumping more aesthetic than never before.
The veterans of ladies’ ski jumping – if you want to talk about that with 30 years – are Line Jahr and Danie Iraschko-Stolz and Anette Sagen (28). This trio will be together with the other ladies in Romania. On the third last station of this season, the events will take place at Râşnov. Befor the events in Falun (15th and 16th of March), this will be the last competitions on a normal hill. After that, the special rule will be valid for the two events at Oslo (8th of March) and Planica: only the top 30 of the overall World cup-standings are allowed to start there.
Even about this topic, Hans-Peter Pohl told about his opinion: “this rule does make a lot of sense, because there are even among the top 30 some girls who are not dominating the large hills overall. Looking on the top 10, I would say that we do not have to worry about them. They also could go ski flying.” Originally, the weekend at Falun should have been the last. Now, FIS decided to give another large hill event to the women. And the men? They final the Nordic Tournament with competitions at Trondheim and Oslo.
Ski Flying World Championships at Harrachov
After that, it is going to be hot – if the weather admits this wish. Straight year-number, this means Ski Flying World Championships! This time, Harrachov will be the place. This hill is not only dangerous – some say breakneck – or boring, say a lot of people. But Jurij Tepeš showed the total opposite in 2013. With an incredibly aggressive jumping style, he jumped out of the distance video measurement into the flat part. 220 meters was the official distance, but actually the flight was even farer. This was a flight from a different planet. Although Tepeš had a lot of pressure at the landing progress, he directly jumped on his feet and raised his fists. Pohl says about him: “he could be the winner and also the first man to jump over 250 meters. He is a young, airily athlete who made good steps of development behind the other strong athletes.”
Common final for ladies and men in Planica
Last, but not least, the traditional World Cup-final at Planica will take place. But – hardcore fans will know that – not on Letalnica. Not on the very large, for lots of fans the largest and only one ski flying hill: but on the large hill (HS 139). The “Bloudkova Velikanka”, freshly rebuilt, will be venue of a World Cup for the first time after 1998. And that is a consequent and right decision, because it is one of the most modern ski jumps. In addition to that, Planica wants to be host of the Nordic-Ski World Championships 2019 and this is an appropriate test. The schedule will be the same as always, beside the single ladies’ event.
This season, full of highlights, ends on the 23rd of March 2014. One can say that it is late, but believe me: this day might come very early and every fan is going to say: “does it really have to be the end already right now?!” That is why we all should try to “inject everything possible”. A new World Cup-Opening, Four-Hills-Tournament, Ski Flying World-Championships and a new final are the main stations, but is definitely worth it to watch everything, even the ladies. I will watch everything possible, as far as my university lessons allow me that and also be present live at the hills. And who knows?! Maybe, I am going to write reports about that as well…
So finally, I wish you a heart-warming, suspenseful, eventfully, great and long Olympic winter! And to the athletes: all the best, beautiful and long jumps and a lot of health and courage!