Friday, December 26, 2014

2014-15 Four Hills Tournament preview

The New Year is coming close and it is the time for the Four Hills Tournament. I am already eagerly looking forward to it. The last ski jumping season was a pleasure to watch with so many jumpers able to succeed, and this season seems just as good. That makes predicting the tournament winner very hard.

Austria has a winning streak since the 2008-09 tournament. But Austria's dominance in ski jumping has ended. The best Austrian in the World Cup is Michael Hayböck on third place. He is having a solid season with four podium results and is still to miss the top 10. He is one of the favorites.

Last year's winner Thomas Diethart has been badly out of form this year and can't be expected to repeat his victory. Two-time Four Hills Champion Gregor Schlierenzauer has one win and one second place from this season but there have also been some mediocre results that he can't afford at the Four Hills.

Anders Fannemel is the current World Cup leader. After a brilliant start to the season, the last weekend in Engelberg was worryingly his two worst competitions of this winter. If he can return to the level he was earlier this season, then he is fighting for the title.

I think the most impressive jumper of the season has been Roman Koudelka. Three wins, one second place, and only once out of the top 10 (11th in the 1st Lillehammer competition). He is only two points behind Fannemel in the World Cup standings, despite missing the competitions in Nizhny Tagil. He is my favorite for the Four Hills title.

After winning almost everything else in the sport, Simon Ammann is still in the quest of his first Four Hills title. Apart from the 1st Lillehammer competition in inconsistent win conditions, he has always been in the top 10, including two wins in Kuusamo. He had some excellent jumps last weekend in Engelberg, so he has a good chance to win that elusive title this time. But the opponents are strong.

The biggest hopes for the other host country, Germany, seem to be Severin Freund and Richard Freitag. Freund has had a solid start to his season but to win the Four Hills title, he need to start beating others. Freitag didn't start the season so well but had an excellent weekend in Engelberg with a win and a fifth place.

These are some but not all of the jumpers able to win the Four Hills title. The best Japanese, Noriaki Kasai, Daiki Ito, and Taku Takeuchi, skipped the last two weekends, so their form is hard to predict. Kasai started the season well and shared the win in the 2nd Kuusamo competition plus was third in the first competition there, with Ito on the second place.

Other jumpers capable for good results include Peter Prevc, Jernej Damjan, Anders Bardal, and Stefan Kraft. Kamil Stoch's form is a huge question mark. Last winter's World Cup champion and double Olympic gold medalist injured his ankle just before the season started and Oberstdorf will be his first World Cup competition for this winter. That is far from an ideal situation before the Four Hills.

So, this Four Hills Tournament seems hard to predict. My favorites are Koudelka followed by Ammann, Hayböck, and Fannemel.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Olympic Agenda 2020 approved

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved the Olympic Agenda 2020. The recommendations of the agenda include reducing the cost of the games and improving their legacy as well as some ethical recommendations.

One of the recommendations was allowing to have some sports organized outside the host city and in exceptional cases outside the host country. That would enable more use of existing venues. I hope the compactness of the Olympics doesn't suffer a lot from that. In my opinion, all sports should be within a reasonable distance from the host city, say three hours by car, unless there are some geographic reasons, like sailing far from an inland host city. I am fine with having some sports outside the host city, as long as there remains a clear main host city, hosting most important sports like athletics, swimming, and basketball. Though, in the case of team sports played in multiple arenas, I think also other sports than football could have matches in different cities around the country. For example, in the case of ice hockey, it doesn't always make sense to have two hockey arenas in the host city but another round robin group could be played in another city with an existing hockey arena.

As for allowing having sports outside the host country, I think it is a good decision. If a host city is situated close to a border and there is some existing venue right behind the border, it doesn't make sense to build a new venue to the host country. Yet those venues abroad should be within a reasonable distance. Again, I think something like three hours by car should be the maximum. And there should be no visa requirements between the countries where the games are hosted.

Another recommendation aimed to cut the costs is to move from a sport-based to an event-based programme. Instead of capping the number of sports, the number of events will be capped as well as the number of athletes and coaches. The organizing committees are allowed to propose additional events to their edition of the Olympic Games.

I am not so sure capping the number of events and athletes is a better way to prevent the costs increasing than capping the number of sports. To fit the new limits, athletics and swimming may need to drop some events off. I don't like the idea of dropping triple jump and race walking off as they are distinguishable events within athletics. Besides, I doubt reducing the number of athletics and swimming events reduces the costs a lot, the athletics and swimming venues are still needed. I think reducing the number of sports and thus the number of venues needed would cut the costs more effectively. As for the organizing committees being allowed to propose events, it enables having sports of local interest but I don't like the idea of adding sports only for one Olympics. I would prefer a stable Olympic programme with new sports being aimed to become permanent Olympic sports.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Projected Alpine Skiing World Cup standings explained

I have added the projected Alpine Skiing World Cup standings to my blog. It is a different perspective to the overall World Cup standings. The actual standings can be distorted by the uneven number of races in different disciplines. The projected standings show how many points the skiers will have at the end of the season if they score points at the same rate as earlier in the season. Surely this isn't the perfect way to present the World Cup standings, for example this doesn't take injuries into account. And Henrik Kristoffersen winning all 11 slalom races to finish the season on overall third place is an unrealistic assumption. But surely it is fair to assume Felix Neureuther will finish the season higher as 18th overall where he is ranked now due to the small number of technique races. 7th, as in the projected standings, seems more likely. One thing to remember is also the combined races that can't have been included to the projected standings.

A quick look into men's standings shows two men above others, Kjetil Jansrud and Marcel Hirscher. Jansrud is the only man to have made the podium in all speed races whereas Hirscher is the only man to have made the podium in all technique races. Jansrud leads as he has more wins and has scored points in three disciplines. Still it would be way too early to say he has the title in bag, even if he doesn't get injured. Both Jansrud and Hirscher will have bad races and the one with less bad races seems like the one to win the title.

Of course, it is still too early to predict the final standings. Pinturault can be strong in slalom, giant slalom, and super-G. If he begins to succeed constantly in all of them and get wins, he can win the overall title. But as the projected standings show, he must improve from how he has performed this season. Of course, he has no slalom points in the projected standings as he got no points from Levi. With more races the projected standings will get more accurate.

On women's side, Tina Maze is way above others. She is the only one who can constantly get high points in all disciplines. It is yet to be seen what Lindsey Vonn can do in technique disciplines; if she succeeded there, she could join the title battle. A big mover in the projected standings is Lara Gut who is only 12th in the actual standings, due to more technique than speed races. If she can keep on scoring points in speed races like in Lake Louise, she can fight for the third place in the overall World Cup.