Athlete of the Week: Kristjan Ilves (EST)
If an athlete himself proclaims that he currently is in “the best shape of his life”, an “Athlete of the Week” honour might be warranted, especially if said athlete just achieved two career-best results on one weekend.
While Ilves was still celebrating his sixth place from the first day of the TRIPLE in Seefeld, he did probably not think that this career-best would only be short-lived and so much more was to come on his trip to Hakuba, Japan. The plan was to acclimatise, prepare for the upcoming Olympics and to compete in the two final World Cup events, nice and simple.
Ilves started his weekend strong with a PCR victory. Even though the Estonian had never won a jumping round before, this did not come as a huge surprise as some of the best athletes in the World Cup were absent and he is known for his prowess on the jumping hill rather than for strength in the cross-country part.
Still, starting from the second position in Saturday’s race, Ilves managed to hold the pursuing Norwegians off to claim a career-best fourth place, even though he had to concede defeat to Germany’s Manuel Faißt, who kicked the 21-year-old off the podium. Ilves’s distance to rank three had grown to almost a minute by the finish line.
The following Sunday turned out to be Ilves’s day. Not only did he beat a Jan Schmid and an Akito Watabe on the jumping hill, his “absolute favourite as of now”, as he stated in the following press conference, but he also skied his race in a confident and strong manner never seen before from the young Estonian.
When he started out on the difficult, fast-paced 5 x 2 km course, Ilves was focussed, confident and disciplined. He held the pace high and steady and defended himself with everything he had. When he reached the 8 km mark and still the pursuers, number one and two in the overall World Cup, hadn’t caught him yet, many of the spectators began to ask themselves who this young Estonian actually was and if he would really be able to pull off a great coup.
Even though Jan Schmid crossed that plan in the end, Ilves stayed mentally strong, glued himself to Schmid’s back and took a sensational second place, beating Akito Watabe on home ground. In addition, this was the first Estonian podium position in Nordic Combined in 26 years, since Allar Levandi was second in Courchevel in 1993. If this does not warrant an “Athlete of the Week”, we don’t know what does.