The Viessmann FIS Nordic Combined World Cup weekend in Lillehammer (NOR) marked the return of Jarl Magnus Riiber. The 21-year-old, once hailed as one of the discipline’s shooting stars but also known for incredible mishaps and injury misfortunes, moved on from past troubles and firmly seated himself on the Nordic Combined throne last weekend.
The three-consecutive victories in Lillehammer, leading up to a clear Lillehammer Tour win are not only an impressive feat by themselves. In the context of last weekend, they meant that Riiber won three different formats, including the Mass Start return to the World Cup after an absence of ten years. To put it plainly, it did not matter how long the cross-country distance was, if the race came first or last in the daily programme, if Riiber had experience with the format or not and if the competition took place on a normal or large hill, Riiber’s performance was flawless on all days.
Breaking into the Nordic Combined scene in 2014 at age 17, Riiber was hailed as the athlete who would lift Nordic Combined ski jumping to a whole different level.
The Norwegian jumping sensation made his first trip to the podium in the 5 km event of the Nordic Combined TRIPLE in 2015. In the same year, he won both individual events at the FIS Junior World Championships in Almaty (KAZ). A high-profile crash with Germany’s Johannes Rydzek (GER) on the last metres of the Team Sprint event in Lahti (FIN) put Riiber into the media focus in a different light for the first time.
One winter later, he continued his success with a first podium in an Individual Gundersen 10 km race on a normal hill in Ramsau am Dachstein (AUT). Regularly starting his races from the first position, Riiber’s first World Cup victory came right at his home, the iconic venue of Holmenkollen, Oslo (NOR) and brought the prestigious King’s Cup and a trip to King Harald V. as an additional boom.
But again, it was the competition weekend in Lahti that developed into an absolute nightmare for the then 19-year-old. A wrong turn on the last metres of the cost Riiber a secure second World Cup victory on the first competition day and when Riiber’s shoulder jumped out of its socked in the Team Sprint on the following day, his season was over prematurely.
Even though Riiber returned in strong form in the 2016 Summer Grand Prix, the following season was marked by long periods of sickness. When his shoulder dislocated again before the jumping event in Seefeld in January 2017, Riiber’s season was once again finished and he had to undergo surgery to fix the problem permanently.
The 2017/18 winter marked a period of personal growth, as a person, athlete and especially on the cross-country track. Gone were the days of Riiber’s prowess lying only on the jumping hill and impressive races got Riiber to the podium several times, even though a victory remained elusive. At the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang (KOR), he missed a medal by one position two times in a row.
Understandably, it was with great relief and satisfaction that the resident of Oslo celebrated his return to the top spot on the podium on the past weekend after chasing after it for almost two years. What has probably changed most is the level of maturity, inner calm and trust into his own strengths that now lie on the jumping hill and on the cross-country track.
This “new” Jarl Magnus Riiber, the one fortified and steeled by past experiences and the process of working through dark times, will be a difficult obstacle for everybody striving for success in Nordic Combined in the next weeks, months and maybe even years to come.