Sunday, December 18, 2016

Domen Prevc leads the World Cup into the Four Hills

Domen Prevc won the last competition before Christmas in Engelberg and leads the Ski Jumping World Cup standings going into the Christmas break. After Christmas the season will have its first highlight, the 65th Four Hills Tournament in Germany and Austria.

Photo: Ingo Jensen, OK Vierschanzentournee

Defending champion Peter Prevc struggling to find his form

Peter Prevc started his clean sweep of the 2016 major titles at the Four Hills where he became the champion by winning three of the four competitions. Yet he hasn't dominated this season like he did last season.

Prevc looked great in the first competition of the season at Ruka, leading after the first round and finishing third despite a fall that cost him the victory. However, in the five following individual competitions he has made the top 20 only once, finishing ninth in the second Lillehammer competition.

The last weekend in Engelberg was very unfortunate for Prevc; he was as high as sixth after the first round in the first competition but fell in the landing of the second jump, finishing in 26th place. In the second competition, he was totally off form, missing the top 30 and World Cup points.

The first competition of the season showed Prevc has potential to succeed. Yet given how inconsistent he has been, it's hard to see him repeating last year's triumph at the Four Hills.

Severin Freund aims for first German title since 2002

After years of disappointment at the Four Hills, Severin Freund finally celebrated a competition victory in the Four Hills' opening in Oberstdorf last season, giving hope of the first title by a German jumper since Sven Hannawald in 2002. Freund couldn't match the dominant performances of Prevc in the following competitions, yet he had a solid campaign to finish the tournament as the runner-up.

Freund got a strong start for his season with second and first places, and leading the World Cup after the opening weekend of Ruka. Yet after that he didn't make the top 10 again before the last weekend before Christmas in Engelberg where he achieved 10th and ninth places.

Freund is a former World Cup overall champion, World gold medalist in flying and large hills, and has Olympic gold from the team competition. The missing Four Hills title is the biggest hole in his CV. Getting back into the top 10 in Engelberg gave some hope for his Four Hills campaign but there is still a handful of athletes showing better form going into the Four Hills.

Domen Prevc sensationally leading the World Cup

While the defending champion Peter Prevc is struggling, his youngest brother Domen Prevc comes into the Four Hills Tournament as the World Cup leader. Domen achieved his maiden World Cup victory in the season opening at Ruka. Since then he has won three more competitions, been once second, and missed the podium only twice.

Domen Prevc is arguably the best ski jumper at the moment. A question is if the 17-year-old sensation can handle the pressure of the Four Hills. Last year he came into the Four Hills with four top-10 results, including his first World Cup podium. Yet at the Four Hills, he made the top 10 only in the last competition of Bischofshofen where he was sixth.

Given how solid he has been so far this season, I expect that to continue at the Four Hills. And if Domen is at his best at the Four Hills, not many jumpers can challenge him.

In addition to Peter and Domen, the Prevc family may have a third brother at the Four Hills. Following two victories and a second place in the Continental Cup, Cene Prevc participated the last World Cup weekend of Engelberg with 30th and 29th places.

Daniel-André Tande leads the challengers

Daniel-André Tande is in second place of the World Cup standings, although already 158 points behind Domen Prevc. Althoug Tande hasn't won a competition this season, he has three second places and would have been second in the last Engelberg competition had he not fallen the landing of his second jump over the hill record.

In the seven competitions of this season, Tande has always made the second round and missed the top four only twice, the latter of which was because of the fall in Engelberg. If he can keep on performing like that, he will finish high at the Four Hills.

Kamil Stoch back on top

The former World Cup overall champion and Olympic and World gold medalist Kamil Stoch is still aiming for his first Four Hills title. Not having made the podium in the 2015-16 season, Stoch returned to the top spot by winning in Lillehammer after two fourth places. He made the podium again in the last competition in Engelberg where he was second.

The greatest success has always eluded Stoch at the Four Hills. At best he was fourth in the tournament standings in 2013, and he has never won at any of those four hills. In the 2013-14 season he was leading the World Cup standings before the Four Hills, yet still he finished only seventh in the tournament standings. Now he is in a great form to finally enjoy success at the Four Hills; during the last two World Cup weekends only Domen Prevc scored more points.

Maciej Kot is Poland's other hope at the Four Hills. Having won the Grand Prix title last summer in a dominant fashion, he achieved his first World Cup podium in Lillehammer where he was second to Stoch. Kot is fifth in the World Cup standings, yet the 12th and 15th places of the last competitions in Engelberg weren't promising for the Four Hills.

Kraft and Hayböck Austria's leading contenders

Stefan Kraft and Michael Hayböck have been the leading Austrians the past two seasons and are again Austria's strongest contenders for the Four Hills. The 2015 Four Hills champion Kraft has been consistent in the early season, finishing all competitions inside the top 10. With three podium results, he is sitting in third place of the World Cup standings. Kraft surely enjoys competing at the Four Hills; two years ago he achieved his maiden World Cup victory in Oberstdorf and retained the lead throughout the tournament to win the Four Hills title.

Ninth in the World Cup standings, Hayböck has found his form at the right time; he achieved his first season podium by beating Domen Prevc for the win in the first Engelberg competition. That was followed by his second-best result of the season, sixth in the second competition. Hayböck has a good record from the Four Hills, having finished in second and third places last two years. Still, two years ago he seemed like the top Austrian going into the Four Hills, yet he celebrated his first victory only at the tournament finale in Bischofshofen while his countryman Kraft celebrated the tournament title.

The 2010 Four Hills champion Andreas Kofler has started the season better than in years. 10th in the World Cup standings, Kofler achieved his first podium since March 2014 as he was third in the first Engelberg competition. However, he has missed the top 10 three times this season, including the last competition before the Four Hills in Engelberg. His form is probably too inconsistent to fight for the Four Hills title.

Manuel Fettner in eighth place is the fourth Austrian in the World Cup top 10. At the age of 31, he is having his best season, having achieved his second career podium result six years after the first one. Still, it's hard to see him among the favorites for the Four Hills. He has finished three times in the top four and twice outside the top 10 in this season's seven competitions. For comparison, Kraft has finished always in the top 10 and only three times outside the top four. At the Four Hills, you need to be in the front constantly with every jump to win the tournament.

Breakthrough of Markus Eisenbichler this season

Severin Freund isn't Germany's only contender for the Four Hills. Markus Eisenbichler is the second-highest-ranked German in the seventh place of the World Cup standings. Eisenbichler has missed the top 10 only once this season and achieved his first World Cup podium with a third place in the second Lillehammer competition. In the last competition before the Four Hills, Eisenbichler achieved his second-best career result with a fifth place, albeit losing 28 points to the winner Domen Prevc.

Daiki Ito the leading Japanese contender

Daiki Ito is the top Japanese contender for the Four Hills. 17th place in the World Cup standings isn't that impressive, yet fifth in the first competition in Engelberg gives some hope for the Four Hills.

Noriaki Kasai has a brilliant Four Hills record from last three years with fifth, fourth, and seventh places. However, this year's tournament may be more difficult for Kasai; the 44-year-old veteran is only 27th in the World Cup standings and his best result from this season is an 18th place from the opening competition at Ruka.

Simon Ammann facing an impossible task

Like Stoch and Freund, Simon Ammann is a great champion whose career lacks the Four Hills title. The 2010 World Cup overall champion and six-time Olympic and World gold medalist has been the Four Hills runner-up in 2009 and 2011, yet after those he has made the tournament top 10 only in 2014 when he was third.

Ever since his second crashed landing at the 2014-15 Four Hills in Bischofshofen, Ammann has made the World Cup podium only once, in the spring of 2015. Since the crash, his landings have been too careful, leading to poor style marks, and he hasn't been in a form to compensate that with longer jumps.

This season has been very poor for Ammann. He is in 28th place of the World Cup standings with a best result of 21st in Klingenthal. That makes his Four Hills dream seem impossible this season. And at the age of 35, he may be running out of time to win that one elusive title.

In short: Domen Prevc the favorite

With his consistently great performances, Domen Prevc must be the favorite for the Four Hills. The only question is if he can handle the pressure. If Domen failed, then Daniel-André Tande would be the title favorite, yet Kamil Stoch, Michael Hayböck, and Stefan Kraft can also be expected to be strong at the Four Hills. Both of last year's top two, Peter Prevc and Severin Freund, need to improve their performances if they are to be title contenders.

No comments:

Post a Comment