Friday, March 13, 2015

2015 Ski Jumping World Cup title battle: four competitions remaining

The 2014-15 ski jumping season is coming to its end. There are four individual competitions left in the World Cup: two in large hill in Holmenkollen in Oslo this weekend and two in flying hill in Planica next weekend. Three men are well ahead of the rest of the field and will decide the World Cup title; Severin Freund leads Peter Prevc by 34 points and Stefan Kraft by 46 points.

Freund has been a very consistent top jumper after the Four Hills Tournament. Excluding the Sapporo competitions that he skipped, he's been on podium in all but two competitions, one of those podium misses having been a fourth place and the other being a disqualification. He was the best jumper of the World Championships, a dominant win in the large hill and a second place in the normal hill narrowly missing the win. After the Worlds, he was second in Lahti and won in Kuopio and Trondheim, even though in the latter he wouldn't probably have won without Kraft's binding problem.

Prevc's form in the recent weeks hasn't looked so good and he's been inconsistent. He had good results since the beginning of the season, was third at the Four Hills, had strong results after the Four Hills, and won in Sapporo and Vikersund, giving him the World Cup lead. But the World Championships after Vikersund were a disappointment. He was 13th in the normal hill and 4th in the large hill and failed to repeat his two-medal performances from the previous Worlds from two years ago and last year's Olympics. And while 4th, 17th, and 2nd places from the last three World Cup competitions aren't such a bad result, the worrying thing for him is that he just seems unable to match Freund and Kraft. I hope the pressure isn't too much for him but this is starting to seem like yet another title this season he can't eventually fight for. Prevc couldn't stay in the Four Hills title contention in the last two competitions and he couldn't win a medal at the Worlds despite having been one of the favorites to succeed. Now I hope he can bring his best to the remaining World Cup competitions to get a strong finish to his season, no matter if he wins the title or not.

Kraft made his big breakthrough this season when he won the Four Hills Tournament. Since then he's been consistently on top but he lost the World Cup lead when he skipped the ski flying weekend of Vikersund to prepare for the World Championships. Third in the normal hill and fifth in the large hill was a decent World Championships performance by him even though nowhere near to Freund's performance. But after the Worlds he's been great. A dominant win in Lahti, third place in Kuopio, and an unlucky 9th place in Trondheim. He had a great first jump in Trondheim but an unlucky binding problem on the second round may have cost him the win. The only fortunate thing is he could handle the dangerous situation and land safely; otherwise his World Cup campaign might have been over.

But who is the favorite? The gaps are small given there are four competitions left. Kraft can overtake Freund already after the Holmenkollen competitions if he jumps like in Lahti and Trondheim. And while Prevc has recently been the weakest of these three, he hasn't lost anything yet. But looking at the recent form, Freund and Kraft are the favorites. Kraft seems like the best jumper at the moment. Though, the last two competitions will be in a flying hill and Freund and Prevc are well-accomplished in ski flying. Freund is leading the Ski Flying World Cup by 85 points after three of five competitions. He has wins from Kulm and Vikersund and he won the Ski Flying World Championship gold medal last season. Prevc is second in ski flying standings, won in Vikersund, and won the Ski Flying World Cup crystal globe last year, even though it consisted of only two competitions. Kraft doesn't have such a record from ski flying but he was second in Kulm this season so ski flying shouldn't be a problem for him. But if he couldn't reduce the gap to Freund and Prevc in the large hill of Holmenkollen and even build some lead, then I'd prefer Freund's and Prevc's chances to win the title in Planica as a flying hill should benefit them. But I expect a tight battle of the title between two or even all three of the candidates until the last competition. Kraft should be strong, Freund should be strong, and Prevc can be just as good. Right now Kraft would be my pick for the title, he's the best jumper at the moment and 46 points isn't such a huge gap with four competitions remaining.

To not miss the remaining competitions, add the World Cup calendar with start times to Google Calendar.

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