"It's all or nothing at the Junior World Champs for me!"
With only 18 years, Finnish rising Nordic Combined athlete Ilkka Herola has already seen one full World Cup season, top ten ranks, two Junior World Championships (including a silver medal) and the World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme. Now he's back to Fiemme to win back what he narrowly missed out in Liberec last winter: another Junior World Championship medal. Fis-ski.com talked to the resident of Siilinjärvi near Kuopio about his recent good shape, goals for Fiemme 2014 and of course about Sochi.
The last two World Cup weekend's went really well for you with Top 15 ranks in Seefeld and Oberstdorf. What is working well at the moment so that you can go for these kind of positions?
Illka Herola: It's the jumping, definitely. It's getting better all the time which makes competing easier. I am able to show good jumps in the competitions now and this gives me better places to start in the cross-country part. Then it's of course easier to ski, too.
Speaking of the last two World Cup weekends, with a final 13th rank in the TRIPLE, you did also well in this new competition mode. How did you like it?
Herola: I think it was nice because it was different from our other competitions. I think the jumping makes more of a difference in the TRIPLE because you have these big gaps after a while. It was definitely an interesting experience!
Do you think the experiences and confidence you were able to gain in the World Cup will give you an advantage here at the Junior World Champs?
Herola: Maybe yes, but we are in a totally different situation compared to the World Cup. We have much more speed in the jumping part, so the differences are not that big. A lot of guys can jump these long distances and then the cross-country part is tighter. If there are some good skiers in the starting field here in Fiemme, this competition can be challenging also for me. But we will see.
Last year, the Junior World Championships did not go as planned for you with two fourth places. Is 2014 the year of revenge?
Herola: Yes, maybe. (laughs) But I am here only for one competition and so it's like all or nothing for me. So we will see how it goes. But I have to say, I have my main goal at the Olympics, so the Junior World Champs are more of a "middle goal" this season.
Is taking part in Fiemme 2014 a good final preparation for Sochi then?
Herola: Yes, that's why I am here. At first we planned that I will skip the Junior World Championships this year but there are two weeks without any competitions between the last World Cup and the Olympics. It's better to compete than to do only some harder trainings at home.
How does it feel to be going to the Olympics as the best Finnish Nordic Combined athlete and team leader?
Herola: Actually, I am a bit sad that I am the best and that I am the only Finnish athlete in the Top Ten this year. Maybe it would also be easier to be only the second-best. (laughs) But the situation is like this now and I will do my best and try not to feel too much pressure from it.