Ladies' World Cup review: Sara Takanashi against the rest of the world
The 2015/16 Ladies' World Cup season is history and the big winner was Sara Takanashi. The 19-year-old Japanese took the overall World Cup title of the third time after 2013 and 2014 and returned to the top after last season's overall win went to Austria's Daniela Iraschko-Stolz.
Takanashi received the big crystal globe last weekend at the men's World Cup final in Planica. According to FIS Race Director Chika Yoshida also ladies' ski jumping in general was a winner last winter: "We had a lot of highlights", the 45-year-old Japanese, who is head of ladies' ski jumping in the FIS since 2012, said.
Wire-to-wire victory for Takanashi
Takanashi made her first step on the way to victory already in the opening event in Lillehammer, followed by wins in Nizhny Tagil, two perfect weeks at home with four wins in Sapporo and Zao and five wins within a week in Oberstdorf, Oslo and Hinzenbach. After ten victories in a row, Maja Vtic was able to beat the Japanese in front of her home crowd in Ljubno, Slovenia. And all that in front of the record number of about 7000 spectators. A day later Takanashi even missed the podium and was following the victory ceremony, with Daniela Iraschko-Stolz on top, from the sidelines - for the only time this season.
Final test in Lahti
At the final test for the next World Championships in Lahti, the Japanese won again and ended the season with two wins in the World Cup premiere in Almaty. With 14 wins in 17 competitions, the 19-year-old missed her own record, set in 2013/14, by only one victory. And that probably only because the World Cup final in Rasnov (ROU) became a victim of the mild temperatures. There was no doubt that the Japanese was the dominating athlete, but still it was probably the most interesting season of the Ladies' World Cup so far. Mainly because of the fight for the places behind Takanashi. Ten other athletes of five nations achieved a podium result.
Austrians Daniela Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, Eva Pinkelnig, Chiara Hoelzl and Jaqueline Seifriedsberger, Japanese Yuki Ito, Norway's Maren Lundby and Russia's Irina Avvakumova. The most impressive progress was probably made by the Slovenians. Maja Vtic took her first win, Ema Klinec and Spela Rogelj were on the podium. They finished third in the Nation's Cup behind Austria and Japan.
Whenever there are winners in sports, there are also losers. And the German team must be considered one of them this past winter. Olympic Champion Carina Vogt and her teammates had to be satisfied with the fourth place in the Nation's Cup.
Interview with FIS Race Director Chika Yoshida
FIS Ski Jumping: How would you recap the past season?
Chika Yoshida: We witnessed another step in the development in ladies ski jumping. Despite the dominance of Sara Takanashi, the fight for the podium was exciting and interesting. And the fact that many young athletes are already competing on the highest level promises great sport also in the future. In Nizhny Tagil we saw the second Ladies' World Cup event on Russian soil. I think and hope that we will have a positive future ahead of us especially in Russia, because the Russian team is very strong. In Almaty we had a World Cup premiere on an incredible high level. In Japan we were fortunate with the weather conditions. With the exception of the first competition in Zao, when we could only carry out one round, the conditions were almost perfect. In Hinzenbach we saw two great competitions despite the difficult weather conditions.
FIS Ski Jumping: Was there a highlight for you?
Yoshida: It's difficult to name a particular moment. The hill in Zao was reconstructed especially for the ladies. Thanks to new floodlights we could jump late afternoon and so the competitions were broadcasted live in Europe in the morning. This is great. Thanks to German television there was a remarkable TV production of the events in Oberstdorf. We don't have the exact figures yet, but I think that our competitions were followed in many living rooms. In Ljubno we had the record number of 7000 spectators and a fantastic atmosphere. This was a great experience, especially for the athletes. Then there was the competition on the Holmenkollen in Oslo as the sporting highlight, like a ski flying event for the ladies. It was a really nice season.
FIS Ski Jumping: Unfortunately the final in Rasnov had to be canceled. How much does that hurt?
Yoshida: This was actually the only bitter pill to swallow this season. I know that the organizers in Rasnov did everything they could. Only a week before our final, the World Junior Championships were held there under temperatures of up to 18°C. This was a great effort, but after that the snow was gone. Fortunately the overall ranking was already decided by then.
FIS Ski Jumping: What do you think about the dominance of Sara Takanashi?
Yoshida: Winning 14 of 17 competitions is a fantastic achievement. Sara is currently the bench mark, this pushes the other athletes and is a great motivation for them. It's impossible to predict whether she will be defeated more often next season. But I'm convinced that she will have a stronger competition, that the field will get closer and it will definitely not get any easier for her.
FIS Ski Jumping: Can this dominance become a problem for ladies ski jumping?
Yoshida: No, I can say that with a clear conscience. In the past season, and also at World Championships and Olympic Games, Sara was not unbeatable. And there have always been great athletes, who dominated their sport for a certain period of time and set records. There was a similar situation in men's ski jumping with Peter Prevc this season and nobody will say that this could be a problem.
FIS Ski Jumping: What are you looking forward to next season?
Yoshida: The calendar planning is not completely done yet so we have to be patient with a detailed preview. There will definitely be the World Championships in Lahti. The final test this season was good already and this will of course be the highlight next winter. In Pyeongchang we will have the first ski jumping World Cup in South Korea as a test for the Olympic Games in two years. In addition there will be events at our traditional venues, like for example in Ljubno.
FIS Ski Jumping: Do you have some time now to recover after the end of the season?
Yoshida: First there will be the analysis of last season and also some inspections at our venues. After that there will be some time to recover.