Thursday, December 29, 2016

Tande and Stoch favorites a day before the Four Hills

The 65th Four Hills Tournament has started with the qualification of the opening competition in Oberstdorf. Daniel-André Tande topped the qualification ahead of Kamil Stoch who had impressed already in the two training rounds. My long Four Hills preview written right after the Engelberg weekend can be found earlier in the blog.

Fourth in the World Cup standings, Kamil Stoch had a solid qualification day in Oberstdorf. After the third place of the first training round, he topped the second training round. In the qualification round he had a jump of 137.5 meters for the second place.

A World Cup champion and Olympic and World gold medalist, Stoch has won almost everything in ski jumping except for the Four Hills Tournament. Now after some worse seasons, he's back in a winning form and seems like a strong title contender.

Stoch's biggest rival seems to be  Daniel-André Tande, currently second in the World Cup standings. Tande couldn't quite match Stoch's training jumps; however he had the longest qualification jump of 139.0 meters, despite having started a gate lower to Stoch.

Although Tande's only World Cup victory is from over a year ago, he has been consistently in the front in this season's competitions. As his consistently strong performances continued in the Oberstdorf qualification, one can expect a strong Four Hills campaign from him.

The World Cup leader Domen Prevc had shown dominant form in the competitions before Christmas; however he didn't show that form on the qualification day in Oberstdorf. He achieved 12 points less with a jump five meters shorter to Tande's, qualifying in eighth place. Prevc didn't impress in the training rounds either; he was only 47th in the first training round and ninth in the second round.

Prevc has shown this season that he can beat Tande and Stoch. If he can perform like earlier this season, he will be a victory contender in Oberstdorf and at the entire tournament. But if he can't improve from the qualification day, his title chances will become slim already after the first of the four hills.

Domen's oldest brother Peter Prevc is defending the Four Hills title. Only 12th in the World Cup standings after a difficult early season, Peter showed some improved form with the ninth place of the qualification. Still, he scored 12.7 points less than Tande, showing how far he still is from the form needed to repeat his triumph at the Four Hills.

Severin Freund, runner-up to Prevc in the last year's tournament, is in an even more difficult position. While many other Germans performed over their usual level on the familiar hill, last year's winner Freund was only 19th in the qualification. His training jumps weren't great either; 18th in the first round and 25th in the second round.

Tande and Stoch's biggest threats seem to be Austrian. Although his training jumps weren't so great, the 2015 Four Hills champion Stefan Kraft was third in the qualification with a jump of 136,0 meters from the same gate as Stoch. Manuel Fettner in fourth place also achieved 136.0 meters, though starting a gate higher to Kraft. Michael Hayböck was ninth in the qualification; however he had solid training jumps with fifth places in both rounds.

The German crowd's biggest hope in Oberstdorf seems to be Markus Eisenbichler. Seventh in the World Cup standings, the 25-year-old has made his breakthrough this season and achieved his first World Cup podium. Eisenbichler was the top German in the qualification in sixth place with a jump of 137.0 meters, though from two gates higher than the longest jump of Tande. In the training, he was first in the first round and second in the second round.

Like Kamil Stoch, Simon Ammann is a World Cup champion and Olympic and World gold medalist aiming for the missing title at the Four Hills, yet he comes to the tournament only in 28th place of the World Cup standings. Thursday didn't see a much-needed improvement in Ammann's form; he was 29th in the qualification as well as in both training rounds.

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