Luis on Ski Jumping Hill-Tournament: the great final in Planica
Just a few day after Eastern, our columnist is serving you a special small Easter gift. In this new XXL-episode of his column "Luis on Ski Jumping Hill-Tournament", he tells about his personal experiences during the final competition in Planica. We wish you a lot of fun and suspense with this episode and we are looking forward to your feedback!
Luis on Ski Jumping Hill TournamentBy Ski Jumping Hill Archive author and photographer Luis Holuch
The recent season final has definitely been the most suspenseful in the history of ski jumping. For the first time in the history, two jumpers have had the exact same number of points after the final competition. This 32nd and last individual competition in Planica has been an incredible final with a unique chronology and never experienced dramaturgy. “Even a movie author would not write such an incredible story” is an often used statement, but it honestly does not fit in most cases. But everyone who watched it, will make this statement about the individual ski flying competition on this one Sunday in Planica.
But let us face this one also from the beginning. It all started on Saturday afternoon after an extremely unsatisfying team competition (from the German view). Brian and I were hardly thinking how this disappointing result could have happen. Especially because the results on Thursday and Friday were definitely acceptable. Of course, the whole Slovenian country was celebrating after the victory of their team in only one round and the relaxed mood we brought here in our role as Germans and Severin Freund supporters was not existing anymore. We did not make any calculations or thought about possible scenarios before this weekend, because we have been sure: Sevi will make it! And he will make it not somehow, but he will stop the race for the crystal globe on Friday.
But we guessed wrong – Peter Prevc proved his persistence and stole 50 points from the German, now only 44 points advantage were left. We stopped thinking about possible scenarios as fast as we started thinking about it – for us it was clear: we will not be able to do more than cheering and keeping our fingers crossed. We joked with some Peter Prevc fans and made a deal: the Slovene will get the small globe for the ski flying world cup and Freund will get the big one for the overall world cup. We spent the evening in the same way as the two before: eating pizza and then having a few beers in the Vopa. The night should not become so long, because the next day was supposed to be the great day.
Compared to some other nights we already spent together, Brian and I went to bed early. But the next morning felt terrible. The head was tired, the bones were hurting and the weather was extremely uncomfortable. It was foggy and cold and wet at the same time; snowy rain was coming down the sky and my thoughts were just: “great, it will not work out for us today”. We felt kind of numb as we took the shuttle bus in front of the Vopa. Not many talks were on there. Only Mike came to me, hit my shoulder and said to me: “hey, two guys will decide who is going to owe whom the last beer for this season”. Against my actual character, I answered: “I could already buy it now, Freund will not catch the globe”. He just laughed at me and said, it is not decided yet. And Freund was still in the lead, he added. I just sighed at his statements and tried to get finally awake. At least, I was able to get my chin up myself and said to Brian: “it is good that we are not noticeable as Germans. We can be happy about it calmly if Sevi will make it and if Pero [Prevc] will make it, we are normal fans”. “You are actually right, so let’s get this started”, he answered and the world looked a bit friendlier for us.
The trial round started a lot later as it was supposed to do. Normally, I am not really looking on the trial round results, but on this day I was annoyed of waiting for the start. Severin Freund is maybe the athlete in the circus for who the trial round means the most. Although he is not the best jumper in this round in most cases, he uses this jump to fix and optimize his jumping system. Finally, at 9:37, the trial round started – 37 minutes later than scheduled. Many people were laughing as they recognized that one (only one) athlete is supposed to miss the second round. And immediately, some people started with having bets on this one athlete. After the last evening in the Vopa, Brian and I were almost sure it would be Lauri Asikainen from Finland… In the end, Stephan Leyhe (SC Willingen) took the unlucky position. But the world was able to live with it because on the one hand it was the biggest success for him to be part of this world cup final, where only the best 30 (in this case 31) athletes in the world cup were allowed to start and on the other hand, Germany won anyway the nations’ cup – the big goal for head coach Werner Schuster. Except from Michael Neumayer, who was able to gain a few positions in the final round, the performance of the German team has been again disappointing. However, this was just a side story. Everyone was focused on the duel Freund versus Prevc.
My mood turned better after the trial round. The sixth place was definitely a sign that Freund still did not find the key for this flying hill and this results was even worse compared to Friday, but the big but was: Prevc was not the sole dominator and neither on rank one, he was second. In case of this result, the sixth place would have been enough for Freund. We stood in the first row of the FIS Family sector, next to the mixed zone and equipment control. So, we had a perfect view on the action at the TV stations and the jumpers after their flights. Three big spotlights for TV were in the view on the hill, but I did not care about it. We still were able to look on the video wall and stadium announcer Bojan Makovec was also still there. After the trial jump, I intensively looked on the behavior of Freund and Prevc. The Slovene appeared way more relaxed than in the last afternoon where he sat nervously in front of his laptop and surfed on the internet. He is not known for being the greatest communicator, but even for him it was untypical he did not talk to anyone. And Freund? He did not show any emotions after his flight, sat down on a bank and packed his stuff. I have not seen any person in my life which was that focused while packing a bag.
“In case he really loses the globe, it was not his fault. He wants it – he really wants it”, I told myself and took a deep breath. The tension was rising minute after minute. Luckily, the entertainment part in the stadium started. Just, to have some different thoughts on our minds, we participated. We were screaming the names of the Slovenian athletes, sang the Planica anthem and used our arms at the la-ola. That was when the weather did not matter for us anymore, even if it was responsible for some delays. Brian said to me joking: “at least, we do not have to worry for the inrun track”. The track was the reason why the qualification on Thursday was rescheduled to the afternoon. The competition started finally at 10:05. The starting order was renewed after Friday’s competition of course, so it was clear we had to wait until the first highlight would come. Manuel Fettner, wearing bib 9, smashed down the first good flight with 218.5 meters. In his typical style, the binding opened at the telemark, but he did not have any problems while finishing the jump. “I guess, it will not happen in his life again that the binding stays closed”, Brian was laughing.
After Fettner, Gregor Schlierenzauer was jumping and he was the first to fly over hill size. It was already clear that his 228.5 meters could also decide the world cup ranking somehow. Kamil Stoch was even better than him and jumped 235 meters – he was definitely a candidate for the podium or even for the victory today. The Slovenes were a bit disappointing and disappointed, but then Robert Kranjec flew 214.5 meters and was ranked only a bit behind Fettner. All in all, the jumpers were very close to each other in the result list. In this situation, it was remarkable when someone was flying a couple of meters over hill size. Rune Velta did this way and opened the show of the best of the best. His 230.5 meters were good enough to gain one of the first ranks – the first athlete who did so since a long time. Stefan Kraft was next and flew one meter shorter than Velta – he appeared not as strong as on Friday as he became third. Anders Fannemel was not part of our game due to his knee injury, but he was doing well with 226 meters and a telemark.
But then the noise level was rising up incredibly fast: Jurij was up next! The guy, who did not fly less than 220 meters in every single jump except from the second training, where the inrun track was melting. And, because he is Jurij Tepeš, he jumped very aggressive and tried to gain speed. On Friday, he said he wants to win on Sunday – and he did everything to do so. He also jumped 230.5 meters and received the 20.0 points three times from the judges. Because of better wind conditions, he was ranked behind Velta and was not totally satisfied. Noriaki Kasai, the jumper with the less flights, was the next and once again responsible for people taking their real or virtual hats off. A guy, who is still flying constantly over 220 meters in the age of 42, is not from this world. It was clear he would not have any chances to stand on the podium with 223.5 meters, but this guy is unique and has an own category. But now and finally, the prelude was over. And again, the noise level was incredibly high. The attack department, with full name Peter Prevc, sat down on the bar. He had to show his performance, right here and right now. If he wants to save the final chance on the crystal world cup globe, he needs to take the lead now. On this day, the wind fortunately did not play any role, so he received the green light immediately. Prevc took the inrun position, thousands of people were ready to scream their hero down the hill. The acoustic wave was building up and Prevc left the take-off. “It will go far again”, was my first thought. 238.5 meters was his mark in the second on training, on Friday he even flew 248.5 meters – new hill record. And now? The hill size was not a problem again and he landed near to the 240 meters. The atmosphere exploded and everyone knew: that was the jump he needed. Also Prevc himself knew it and formed two fists – but his happiness was not immense. Of course, he knew that he would not be so far away from the others as on Friday. Only 3.9 points was his advantage against Kamil Stoch – in ski flying a very small advantage. “Well, that was total attack – Sevi does not have any choice”, I said to Brian. He admitted without saying anything, he knew it will be a close race. The crowd was still cheering as the German already left the bar. My fingers were already blue from crossing them all the time and I could not prohibit myself from screaming him downhill. The start of the flight looked quite good – like always this weekend – and he really tried to make as many meters as possible. But at a point, it did not go farther and he landed before the hill size mark. There was a short moment of calmness and then the Slovenes screamed again. Everyone was sure, Prevc made half of the way. And Freund? He was angry, while he skied in the outrun. He knew: this will not be enough.
His reaction for TV looked this way: a short and not serious smile, a short wave and then he went away from the spotlight. He was currently seventh and this would not be enough in case Prevc wins. My fist hit my open hand, I was confused and disappointed at the same time. While Prevc shook his hands with the staff members, Freund sat down on the bank like a runner after a marathon. He took down his hat into his face and hided it with his hands. The physiotherapist gave him his changing clothes and tried to get Freund’s chin up. Brian and I were not sure which constellation would mean Freund would or would not win the world cup. Our calculation before was short and simple: in case of Prevc’ victory, Freund needs to stand on the podium. The German would win the globe with a third place by an advantage of four points. But now, rank seven…what needs to happen for a German world cup win? We did not have any idea now, it was just confusing.
Freund’s advantage now was: it was almost impossible that the gate would be lowered before he was jumping, because the strong athletes will be jumping after him. At the beginning of the second round, we became happy about the final jumps of the other Germans. Looking at the average performance of the Norwegians, it became clearer that Germany will win the nations’ cup. This would be a small benefit in case of a possible defeat of Severin Freund. Richard Freitag and Markus Eisenbichler jumped after each other and gained a few positions with 205 and 206.5 meters. The oldie, but still fifth best German ski jumper, Michael Neumayer, flew 210.5 meters and showed his well-known fist pose. He was 19th in the final result. A lot of spectators and experts are asking him again and again: when will you quit? My opinion is the same as Dirk Thiele’s (commentator of Eurosport Germany): why should he quit if he still is a constant and reliable part of the German national team?
In the second group of ten jumpers, not a single German was ranked, but it was almost sure that the noise level would rise again until 180 decibel. Jernej Damjan and Robert Kranjec were the two Slovenian guys which would cause great atmosphere. Damjan is not really known for great flying skills and so he lost three ranks all in all and was right ahead of Neumayer. And Kranjec? It seemed as he has had an imaginary magnet, because he flew 214.5 meters for the third time in three flights. But this was just enough for the Planica anthem and he even kept his position, which was actually one of the better results in his season. I am sure not many people at the hill did not know about it, but the atmosphere was even greater. The Slovenes are great at partying and celebrating, but are also more than fair if other countrymen show a good performance. That was clearly noticeable when Noriaki Kasai came. Actually, there might not be a single spectator who does not like Kasai, but the crowd celebrated his 229 meters as if a Slovenian was flying them.
Kasai was the curtain opener for the last ten jumpers. Michael Hayboeck followed him and he was flying as always on this weekend: stunning. His 232 meters were the best distance so far for this round. This caused a similar reaction of myself, Brian and also of the German fans around us: “was that actually necessary? It is anyway hard for Sevi”. Anders Fannemel’s flight on “only” 214 meters felt then like a recovery. Because that meant, he would not be a danger for Severin Freund. But in the same moment it was also clear that every single rank, Freund would gain could be in a value of gold, or let’s rather say silver (ware).
So, now it was Freund’s turn. He takes seat on the bar, while the stadium announcer screams his name with a lot of euphoria. From the view of the 30,000 spectators and all participating people, his mission now was almost impossible. It is the last flight to save the globe. He takes a deep breath before he leaves the bar. I also take a deep breath and knock on my breast. In this moment, I finally have my first clear thought. I know exactly what is on now. And somehow, I am also living his situation now. I do things I never would do. Even though I know, it would not have any effect on Freund. He leaves the bar. The inrun speed rises from 0 to 100 in less than seven seconds and then he needs to hit this small take-off. One last time, he needs to be aggressive, stretch himself as good as possible, try to make as many meters as possible and then hope that it will be enough. Again, he quickly has finished the take-off movement. “This one is better than the first”, I am thinking immediately. It indeed is, but just a bit. 226 meters and four times the mark 20 from the judges appear on the video wall. Our happiness was very small and mostly because of the great style marks. And then the bar on the FIS graphics started to climb. “Please, please do not stop before you reach the one”, I was thinking. But it did not do so, it stopped at the two. “0.2 points behind Hayboeck”, Brian said shocked.
Was the dream over now? Would these 0.2 points steal the almost secure globe? Or are maybe 100 grams too less (Titisee-Neustadt) the reason for a historical defeat? Are not 9 world cup victories enough for winning the overall ranking? These four questions were spinning around in our heads right now. Freund walks again disappointed to the bank. This time, he more or less throws away his bags, the world crashes down for him in this moment. Stefan Kraft would stay in front of him – that was almost sure now. “If Sevi would at least catch one the next guys”, the Germans next to us were praying. Kraft was not that friendly and kept his position with 229.5 meters. Freund was only third now. Again, the physiotherapist stood next to him and more and more people went towards these two. The next was Gregor Schlierenzauer. Looking at the classy jumpers which should follow and also the small point differences, it almost had to be Schlierenzauer, who fails. But on this weekend we saw more or less the old and popular Schlierenzauer, so I was even skeptical. But the Austrian did not made the perfect jump and landed at 218 meter. “He caught him, at least he caught Schlierenzauer”, the Germans reacted.
But, will that be enough? That was the next question. In the current constellation the question would have to be denied, because Freund hardly kept his seventh rank. I really had no idea now what was going on and stopped calculating immediately. And the craziest dude was up next. And this guy was “only” fourth after the first round: Jurij Tepeš. Brian says to me: “watch out! He will have more head wind than the others and will set a new today’s best mark”. “Believe it or not, I hope you are right”, I answered him and looked uphill. And indeed: the wind indicators were moving faster than in most moments of today. The stadium announcer screams Tepeš‘ first name through the speakers. And as the lights turn green, the whole crowd screams back: „Teeepeeeššš!!!“ And he came – massively. He was flying higher than all the others and it seemed as the flight would never end. He flew over hill size as it would be the easiest thing in the world and then set a great telemark at a distance over 240 meters. This action caused a huge explosion you could not imagine before and people were jumping around and hugging each other. I just said “wow”, but then I raised my fist, because it has been a world class flight and I was sure that Tepeš would be the only challenger for Peter Prevc this day. And the noise level increased even more as the style mark 20 appeared five times on the video wall. The party, which was actually planned for the time after the competition started already now.
But the show has not end yet: there were still three jumpers waiting on the top – Rune Velta, Kamil Stoch and Peter Prevc. And every one of them could also somehow decide the duel between Prevc and Freund. Velta needed some time until he became friends with the hill, although he definitely has got the flying skills. But he was also some percent away from his best performance, he jumped 226.5 meters and reached the same number of points in the second round as Severin Freund. But, of course, this was enough to stay ahead of the German. “Too bad, it would have been great if Sevi beat him”, was the statement of the fan from Rosenheim, who was standing next to me. He was right, but this result had to happen. So now, only Stoch and Prevc were left; Tepeš was still in the lead and now he had a spot on the podium for sure. “In case I am not totally wrong, only one of Kamil and Jurij has to be ahead of Peter and Sevi would be the overall winner”, Brian says. “Sure? Well if you say so…I rather trust the computer before I react somehow”, I answered. But Kamil Stoch was not the one to rely on. The Polish also did not show his best jump and flew 222.5 meters, shorter than the German. Only two points of his advantage against Freund were left in the end – almost nothing. And again all the German fans did not want to believe it. But now the tension level could not raise any higher. For my believe and after what I have seen on Saturday afternoon in the hotel, Prevc is not as cool as many people think and as he also sometimes acts. As the “to-beat-distance” of 240 meters appeared, my feelings were mixed. He already jumped 240 meters here and it seemed very easy. But, would he be able to fly them now? This was a hard task, Jurij Tepeš has given him to solve. Would Tepeš, his teammate, the one who destroyed Prevc’ hopes on the crystal globe? The screams came like a hurricane through the areal, everyone was shouting Prevc’ name. And everyone wanted to see him winning. One last time, the jingle that always appears when a jumper leaves the bar, appeared.
My eyes left the hill, I only watched Severin Freund. He was standing under an umbrella next to the mixed zone. He had his bag on his back, Richard Freitag was standing next him. He still wore the yellow bib. It became noisy, Prevc was in the air now. Thousands of people were screaming the Slovenian word for fly. And Prevc flew – over hill size and also over 230 meters, but then he had to land. Freund nervously moved his head around. The Slovenians were cheering. It was clear that a Slovenian won the competition. But who was the winner of the world cup? It took a very long time until some data appeared on the video wall. Prevc’ flight was repeated over and over again. Then the distance appeared: 233.5 meters! That will not be enough for winning the competition, no matter who the style marks would be. And then the bar in the FIS graphics appeared and stopped at the two. The crowd screamed out loud, flags were waving and people tried to get some beer or slibovitz. But who…ski jumping god…who has won the crystal globe now?? Obviously, Jurij Tepeš was the first who knew it. He was shaking hands acknowledging with Prevc and his look said “sorry”. Suddenly the German athletes and staff members were jumping around in their yellow jackets and everyone was jumping on Severin Freund. “What? Is he really the winner?”, I asked Brian surprised. Nobody in the crowd next to us really knew what the overall result was now. I still thought Prevc would have an advantage of 10 points. “That is not possible. I mean they would not jump around if they were not sure that Sevi has won”, I said. I only saw Germans jumping around and laughing. And then I also started laughing and smiling. “HE has won”, I said. “HE. HAS. WON”, I screamed out loud and it felt like I have won this globe myself. I raised both fists and then Severin Freund passed us. He was talking to someone one the cell phone and went into the container of the equipment control. It took five minutes until he came back. In a total hurry, two people dressed him the bib for the overall world cup winner on.
Afterwards, the victories’ ceremony followed. It all started with the ceremony for the best three of today’s competition. The result was exactly the same as in the last competition on the old Letalnica: Tepeš ahead of Prevc and Velta. The noise after the national anthem of Slovenia caused irritation about the following ceremony. Luckily, we were able to look on the video wall. But not everyone was able to do so and suddenly many Slovenians jumped around again of happiness, not knowing the ceremony was for the ski flying world cup. This ranking was won by Peter Prevc with an advantage of only 11 points ahead of Severin Freund, third became – of course – Jurij Tepeš. Also the men from Rosenheim around us did not understand what this ceremony was about: “did now Prevc win? I thought it was Sevi to win…I don’t get it”, one of them asked. “Prevc won the ski flying world cup, but not the overall world cup”, I helped him. “Aha, I don’t understand anything right now”, he answered confused. “Just wait a minute, we will know it soon”, I smiled. And exactly in this moment, the standings showed up on the video wall. Severin Freund was on top of the list with 1729 points, Peter Prevc was on the next field…with the same number of points! And there was also a one beside his name. I noticed some working progress in my brain. “When two jumpers have the same number of points, the one with more individual victories is going to win, right?, I asked Brian. “Well, if I did not miss any rule changes, your statement is correct”, he was laughing. “That is a bit too much for me right now”, he added. “Well, it seems like my promise before we drove here was not a lie”, I knocked his shoulder and then clapped my hands. That was how it went: Freund and Prevc were equal, but the German won the globe due to more individual victories.
A scenario like this has never happened before in the history of ski jumping. In the first moment, I did not feel like a victory, it was just suspenseful and took a lot of nerves. But the Slovenian Prevc was fairly congratulating and had the same view as almost everyone: Freund took nine (9!) victories this season, way more than any other athlete this season. It would have been a cosmic joke, or let’s say even unfairness, if this would not have been enough to win the overall world cup. Jurij Tepeš kind of stole the globe from Prevc and gave it to Freund. But he did that without any intension and in this rush, in which he has been the weekend long, you do not look on any other constellations. All in all, the best athlete and also the luckiest athlete has won the big crystal globe. Prevc had the same chance on this day and did not take it, so is sport. So the Germans concluded: “luck is part of the game and it comes to those who work for it”.
We did not really party due to tiredness and a cold. After a short mid-day sleep, Mike gave the promised beer to me. His conclusion: “although we did not see a world record, it was Planica and it was again awesome. And who of us would have thought the season would end this way?” “You are totally right, my friend”, I admitted. “To stay in this spirit: thanks a lot for this beer, all the other lost betting games and cheers to the overall world cup winner Severin Freund”. He was just laughing. In the end, everyone was kind of happy and another great weekend in Planica went to its end. It has been a great party and a great world cup final. I can only recommend to also go there. I will do my best to come again next year – even if I have to write my bachelor thesis!
Ski Jumps:Planica (Letalnica)