Friday, December 30, 2016

Kraft and Stoch in their own league in Oberstdorf

The 65th Four Hills Tournament started with Stefan Kraft's close victory over Kamil Stoch while leaving the third-placed Michael Hayböck over 11 points behind.

Like in his winning 2015 campaign, Kraft started the Four Hills Tournament with a victory in Oberstdorf. His first jump of 139.0 meters was the longest of the competition and he could win even with a third-best second jump.

Kamil Stoch was in second place already after the first round, 4.3 points behind Kraft. Importantly for the tournament standings, he reduced the gap to Kraft by 1.5 points in the second round. 2.8 points is a very small gap with six competition rounds remaining at the Four Hills.

The World Cup leader Domen Prevc lost his Four Hills title chances already in Oberstdorf. With his first jump of 124.5 meters, he was already 29.8 points behind Kraft. In the second round the gap increased to 53.3 points which is way too much to make up in the remaining three competitions.

Although his Four Hills title chances have gone, Domen Prevc remains as an interesting man to watch. Despite the 26th place in Oberstdorf, he still leads the World Cup overall standings by 113 points to Daniel-André Tande. The 17-year-old sensation needs to get back to his top form quickly to retain the yellow bib.

Daniel-André Tande topped the qualification but was another favorite who was a disappointment in the first round. With a jump of 130.5 meters, Tande was only ninth in the first round, 14.8 points behind Kraft. Yet with the best second jump of 138.5 meters, he was able to recover into fourth place and reduce the gap to Kraft by 2.2 points. 12.6 points, equivalent to seven meters, is still a gap possible to overcome in the six remaining competition rounds.

Michael Hayböck was third in Oberstdorf and is trailing Kraft by 11.2 points. While that is not an impossible gap to overcome in six rounds, Hayböck, unlike Tande, wasn't able to match Kraft's and Stoch's jumps in the competition rounds nor in the qualification in Oberstdorf. Hayböck needs at least to match the leaders in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, otherwise the gap will become too big for the last two competitions.

The Austrians' strong performances in Oberstdorf were completed by Manuel Fettner in fifth place, 13.1 points behind Kraft. Although Fettner is having a career-best season, a 31-year-old with only two World Cup podiums still seems like an outsider in the title battle.

Markus Eisenbichler did well in almost all his jumps in Oberstdorf. After the first round he was fourth, 1.7 points from the podium, yet he had to settle for a sixth place after the second round. Eisenbichler is in a tight pack of jumpers behind the third-placed Hayböck, 14.9 points from the leader Kraft. A familiar hill may have helped the German Eisenbichler in Oberstdorf and that may be the case also in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. If he can take the same form to the Austrian hills, he can finish even in the top three of the tournament standings.

The seventh jumper within 20 points from Kraft was Piotr Żyła. Although he lost only 4.3 points to the third-placed Hayböck, it would be a surprise if the World Cup 17th-placed Żyła was a podium contender throughout the tournament.

The defending Four Hills champion Peter Prevc couldn't get back into a winning form for this season's tournament. Prevc was 10th in Oberstdorf and 26.2 points to lead is very much of an impossible gap to make up in the three remaining competitions.

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