Women ski jumpers continue to establish themselves - anxious look ahead
There is a bon mot from soccer. According to it, sometime in the late sixties of the last century, the church put up posters on advertising pillars: "Nobody gets past God!" and a prankster then scrawled this motto at the bottom: "Except Stan Libuda!" For the younger ones: Reinhard "Stan" Libuda was a gifted right winger, preferably played for Schalke 04 and the saying of yesteryear could be adopted today almost 1:1 for Nordic skiing, according to the motto: "Nobody gets past Norway! - except the ski jumpers!"
The post-Olympic season was a triumph for athletes from the motherland of Nordic skiing. Whether in men's ski jumping, women's Nordic combined or cross-country skiing - the big crystal balls for the World Cup best always went to Norway. At the same time, it was mostly high-flyers - at least over the course of the entire season - who really pulverized the competition. One has to include Jarl Magnus Riiber in the line of Halvor Egner Granerud, Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, Gyda Westvold Hansen or Tiril Udnes Weng. He finished behind Austria's Johannes Lamparter in the overall World Cup, but that was only because Riiber missed eight of the 22 competitions due to illness; of the 14 events in which he competed, Riiber won eight. And he dominated the World Championships in Planica at will. Only his compatriot Gyda Westvold-Hansen won more clearly, she didn't miss any of her starts - she won all competitions, including the World Championships. And in case of Halvor Egner Granerud it can be stated that he dominated two of the three top events of the winter - the Four Hills Tournament and the RAW-Air, but at the World Championships it was again not enough to make it to the podium in the individual decisions. Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, on the other hand, performed from the beginning to the end of the season and was allowed to realize that the competition - if at all - wasåPal Golberg from his own camp. For Tiril Udnes Weng, on the other hand, it was consistency that was enough for the overall victory. The 26-year-old was at the top of the individual rankings only once in the past season, in Val Müstair in Switzerland during the Tour de Ski. But because the Norwegian was often among the front runners, she collected enough points to win the overall World Cup.
Women's ski jumping in a new dimension
However, the great dominance of the Norwegians in cross-country skiing seems to be over after the Björgen/Johaug era; Swedes, Frenchwomen and a certain Katharina Hennig from Oberwiesenthal are shaking the Scandinavians' chair. This also applies to the ski jumpers, although returnee Maren Lundby and Anna Odine Stroem were among the front runners both at the World Championships and in the World Cup. But the competition for the Norwegians, whether from Austria, Japan, Canada or Slovenia, is broad and from the German point of view it was particularly pleasing that with Katharina Althaus the dominating athlete of the World Championships with 3x gold and a bronze medal wore the DSV jersey. But almost more important for the women was the fact that they were able to compete on the ski jumping hill for the first time at the end of the season in Vikersund. Critics warned and still warn about the high risk of this special discipline, especially for women, particularly because of the higher approach speed. The women, however, know about the dangers, Vikersund went safely and brought new insights to the ski jumpers. Now the next step is to succeed, the Four Hills Tournament also for the ladies. The FIS will decide in late spring whether this will happen next season.
Whether Russians will be back at the start in the coming winter and will be able to provide more stimulation in sporting terms - especially in cross-country skiing - that remains to be seen and is certainly not primarily a decision for the sport alone. Whether the dominance of Klaebo, Riiber and Westvold-Hansen will continue in the "interim year" - except for the Ski Flying World Championships at Kulm, the 2023/24 season is practically free of World Championships - is written in the stars, too clear was the distance between these dominant athletes and the competition in the past winter. Possibly one may get used to new names, with the only 17-year-old Nathalie Armbruster from the Black Forest, a great talent already knocked very hard on the door to the world class. And if one is honest, Armbruster has long since shown with her performance this winter that she can call up world-class performances. In the case of Poland's ski jumpers, we will have to wait and see whether and how the generational change will be mastered; Messrs. Zyla, Stoch and Kubacki - world leaders since year and day - will certainly not want to jump with Japan's Noriaki Kasai or Simon Ammann from Switzerland for the title of old-age world champion. In cross-country skiing, even without Russian participation in the men's event, the question arises as to who will be able to break into the Norwegian phalanx in the future, and Germany's ski jumpers will certainly also clearly analyze why the post-Olympic winter, apart from the jumps on the small hill at the World Championships, was rather one that one would prefer to quickly check off.
New winter - old worries
This may also have been due to the material. Here, innovations are one side, conformity with the rules is another. It will be a task for those responsible at the FIS to think about how to establish clear and controllable rules in the future that do not offer any room for interpretation. The fact that this leeway is used is not the fault of those involved, but a problem of those who allow this leeway. This also applies to the tiresome fluorine-wax problem - as long as various bans cannot be controlled, they are rather pointless.
Which brings us to the global problems. Ever warmer winters in Central Europe, with less and less snow, are the natural (albeit often man-made) enemy of winter sports. Because the World Cup radioed into the ski jumpers' schedule, the 2022/23 winter season already began in Wisla at the beginning of November last year - on mats. A solution for ski jumping - but not so much for cross-country and combined skiing. In the past winter, too, competitions had to be cancelled or postponed due to lack of snow. But to start only in Scandinavia or snow-sure regions overseas would drive Nordic skiing out of its usual environment and thus also out of the view of the fans, so it is not a solution either. That leaves the competition calendar itself: ski jumping from the beginning of November to the beginning of April is also not the last word in wisdom - less is sometimes more. Which will be possible in the coming season already because the World Cup break will not take place. For this, the FIS wants to develop a new format - a mini-Olympics. But it can't find a host for it - understandable, considering the effort involved in preparing and staging it. Perhaps it would be wiser to finally take a closer look at the Nordic combined. Since last summer's IOC decision not to allow women to compete in the 2026 Games in Milan, it has been threatened with extinction. Because in the course of gender equality, the men's competitions would also be on the line by 2030 at the latest. The banishment of the combined athletes from the Olympic program would affect one of the few disciplines that have been present since the first edition of the Winter Games in 1924. Unfortunately, in the winter that has just ended, one did not get the impression that the pressure of suffering at the world federation was great enough to make strategic decisions in the interest of the Nordic combined. These could lead to new competition formats, rule changes or a new, more attractive competition calendar. So there is a lot to do. And actually, the preparation for the next ski winter has already begun.
Fotos: K.Voigt Fotografie/Skispringen-news.de