Luis on Ski Jumping Hill Tournament: at the ladies' World Cup in Oberstdorf - Premiers after Premiers
Very different to last season, where had to wait until the season final until he got the first chance to do a ski jumping trip, our columnist Luis Holuch did not have to wait that long this time. On the first weekend of January, he travelled to the ladies’ World Cup at Erdinger-Arena, Oberstdorf. In this first of two episodes, he is going to tell about his impressions of the sportive competition and analyse the first full large hill weekend of the women with a couple of interview partners. We ho
Luis on Ski Jumping Hill TournamentBy Ski Jumping Hill Archive author and photographer Luis Holuch
Since the annual fall meeting of the FIS council, it was already clear that this first World Cup weekend 2017 would be historic. Back then, it was announced that the competitions in Oberstdorf will be held on the large hill HS 137. The main reason for this decision was the date, said the new FIS Media Coordinator Ladies’ Ski Jumping, Sascha Brand: “It would have been almost impossible for the ski club to prepare also the normal hill only one week after the Four Hills Tournament opener, which took place on the large hill.”
I did not really give a thought on that until I arrived in Oberstdorf. The opposite was the cate: I was simply happy to be back at a ladies’ World Cup after a season where I could not go to any. I was really looking forward to the haunt of meters, as well as the athletes. Most of them basically wanted to extend their personal record. In the end, we counted 26 new personal best distances by 16 different athletes – quite a remarkable number despite the tricky conditions the women had to deal with. On Saturday, especially changing wind speeds and directions were a big challenge for all involved persons. But, local hero Katharina Althaus had a relaxed view on that and also spoke for her colleagues: “The jury did have quite a difficult job today, so we cannot blame them for anything that happened today.”
Olympic champion Carina Vogt added: “Of course, I would have loved to jump 130 instead of 117 meters, but the conditions were very tough for all of us, so we could not show our full potential today.” Nevertheless, there was one athlete, who did not let stop herself by anything: Sara Takanashi. The Japanese claimed her World Cup victories number 48 and 49 and is on her way to complete the half of hundred this weekend on her home hill in Sapporo. In the meantime, all the participating athletes arrived there and faced the qualification this night at 4:30 (MET). But, let us go back to the historic first World Cup weekend with two large hill competitions for the ladies…
The broadcasting German television ZDF called the whole event “an experiment”, which is hardly half of the truth. The only reason to call it an experiment was the scheduled date. The large Schattenbergschanze would have been prepared anyway and the FIS aimed to shorten the break between the last World Cup before Christmas and the first World Cup after New Year’s Eve. And the calendar draft for 2017/2018 includes exactly the same schedule – at least concerning the scheduled date. The large hill as a discipline has lost its status as an experiment quite a long time ago, since female ski jumpers are jumping on them since 2004 frequently (25 FIS competitions until release of this article). Nevertheless, the development of the number of large hill competitions has not fulfilled the wishes and dreams yet – said some athletes.
“I do not understand why we still have such a small number of large hill competitions. You also have to view this from one point: in case we get more large hill competitions, we would train more on large hills and raise the bar higher for each and every one of us. This will not happen when still only the top 30 are allowed to start at the final in Oslo. My wish from the FIS would be to start right here and send us to more large hill competitions. We all have proven here in Oberstdorf that we are able to jump then – it was not dangerous even for a millisecond”, was an unlikely deep inside view of Carina Vogt’s thoughts. But her head-coach Andreas Bauer expressed the same thoughts on this topic: “I totally understand what the girls would like to have. They all showed they can jump the large hill and my believe is: the large hills will be our future.”
The conversations with the athletes showed their wishes for a little more progress. Some of them cannot longer hide their instincts and start being visionary. Sarah Hendrickson, for example. The US-American is a star of ladies’ ski jumping and not only for her quite popular sponsor, moreover for her major titles such as the overall World Cup victory 2011/2012 and the World Championship title 2013. Her pleading would lead into a holistic concept: “The fact we got these two additional large hill competitions here in Oberstdorf was an important step into the right direction. I think, we should get a balance between large and normal hill, so that there will be more and more large hill events in the World Cup. The angle to build up our sport more should be more competitions in the Continental Cup (COC) on normal hills.” The background of this last sentence is: for the second season in a row, the women had only two COC competitions in Notodden (Norway), shortly before Christmas.
It is absolutely remarkable, which kind of view on the whole thing Sarah Hendrickson has got. Especially, when we look at her own story with the Schattenbergschanze HS 137. In August 2014, she went on a training camp with the US team and also jumped the large hill. There, she had a perfect jump and flew to 148 meters. Her knee was not able to hold the landing pressure, she crashed and tore her ACL. Only a seven second-long video clip shows how perfect she hits the take-off. The moment when she hit the outrun and all the consequences following that were only seen by the persons who have been there. Over three years after this incident and another crucial ligament rupture and five surgeries, she came back to this place.
“As you see, I am a little nervous. But, this here needed to happen to continue the journey back to myself. And it’s got that I can get this thing, that happened three years ago and changed my life, done. For me, the mental side was always way more difficult than the physical side, cause it’s harder to handle”, she told me on Friday after the qualification. The three jumps she had there were the first after the incident on this exact hill and the first jumps on a large hill since Oslo 2015. She missed the past season 2015/2016 due to the mentioned second knee damage. But, she is a true fighter and invests everything she has got for her dream to go to the Olympics again – this time, in best possible shape.
“Of course, I feel my knee after all these ups and downs. There is nothing wrong with it, but it has been through a lot. I can’t go out and take eight jumps, like I want too”, she says very focused. She seems to be more relaxed than in her last season 2014/2015, in which she fought a lot with herself. The ranks nine and 16 surely were not what she expected from this weekend, but in general, she is happy with her results. And as I asked her about her goals for this season, she almost sounded like the old Sarah Hendrickson: “I would like to finish in the top ten in the overall World Cup and in the top six at the World Championships. And if it’s possible, one podium until the end of the season would be great.” And who, if not she could achieve that?
Switching from one athlete, who experienced and survived quite a lot, now to the younger, sometimes also wilder ones. The youngest participant at the weekend was the 15-year-old French Lucile Morat who is not only able to challenge her own teammates, but also the whole elite. Although it was clearly visible that this size of hill was new to her, she managed to grab a couple of World Cup points. The biggest surprise of the young generation was Luisa Goerlich’s (Germany) 15th place on Saturday. Her best World Cup result ever – in the age of 18 years; “an absolute highlight for our team”, said Andreas Bauer.
And guess what must be part of such a weekend? Correct, a debut maker! And also this story is – you might already anticipate that – something special. Moreover, it also comes from team Germany. Although almost all the squad members of Germany “have around or even more than 100 large hill jumps on their account” (Bauer), not every one of them automatically got the chance to start in Oberstdorf. Although or maybe even because the German Ski Federation (DSV) was allowed to put on a national group of additional six athletes. “Unfortunately, we have a lost a jumper with Anna Rupprecht due to an injury. And we are not a football club, who could open its purse in the winter break and buy a new one with the same quality. That is why we left one spot empty”, Bauer explained.
One of the starting eleven jumpers was Nicole Hauer. Her biography in the FIS database showed up only twelve international competitions until her start in Friday’s qualification, only two of them outside of Germany. Her international debut took place in 2005 at Breitenberg, near Rastbuechl – on her home hill. Until today, she jumps for the local WSV DJK Rastbuchl, the club of popular ski jumpers such as Severin Freund and Michael Uhrmann. “I used to travel with Severin to competitions, back in the day”, she told me. In contrast to her club colleagues, her path is not leading to an international career with major successes; which is caused by her age and her life situation. 29 years and 303 days was her age on the mentioned Friday: “Sooner or later, I am going to quit my jumping career”, she said with the realism you only can find in her home region Lower Bavaria.
BUT: “I really enjoy ski jumping and it is totally amazing to have my World Cup debut right here. Andi Bauer asked me if I would like to do this and I did not need time for thinking about it.” Bauer himself explained this happening with a mix of special story and Hauer’s skills: “Of course, she most likely will not jump into the elite with her 29 years. But, I am the last guy here who would not let have her fun right here. She handles the large hill very good and that is why we took her with us.” Hauer herself is describing it a little different: “I maybe took ten jumps right here plus a couple of more in Planica. If you want too, call it “my large hill experience”, and laughs out loud. Since she left me the choice, I would like to take it: exactly these stories, like Nicole Hauer’s as the oldest World Cup debutant and that on a large hill (!), are the salt of the soup called ladies’ ski jumping, which make it interesting and special. This is just good the way it is!
So, that is it from this perspective. This episode should focussed on the real protagonists and less on myself. In the next episode, the style will be a little more mixed – so let you be surprised then.
Until then, I hope you will have a good time,
Ski Jumps:Oberstdorf (Erdinger Arena)