What to expect from the 2018/19 winter?
© NordicFocus

The 2018/19 season of the Viessmann FIS Nordic Combined World Cup is right on our doorsteps and of course one of the most pressing questions on everyone’s minds is what to expect of the upcoming World Championship winter?

Highlights, tours and trophies
With the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Seefeld (AUT), the biggest highlight is undeniably set. Four Nordic Combined gold medals (Individual Gundersen normal and large hill, Team Event and Team Sprint) are up for grabs from 20th February to 3rd March, 2019 with the traditional Nordic Combined venue of Seefeld acting as the backdrop for the fight for precious metals. 

Another big spotlight will be on on the Nordic Combined TRIPLE, which will be hosted at another venue for the first time ever, taking place at Nordic Combined mecca Chaux-Neuve (FRA) from the 17th to the 20th of January. After Eric Frenzel engraved his name in the history of the event for the first four years, Japan’s Akito Watabe managed to get his hands on the trophy on its fifth anniversary. Will it go back to the German superstar, can Watabe repeat his triumph or will we see a third TRIPLE winner in the history of this event? Time will tell.

A first indication for title aspirations might be the second weekend of the winter in Lillehammer (NOR). Here, the season opening tour will take place, featuring three events. The athlete who scores the most World Cup points on these three consecutive days is the Lillehammer Tour winner and takes the first honours of the year. New this year: the Mass Start is making its World Cup level comeback within the Lillehammer tour after an absence of ten years. Fun fact: of the three athletes on the podium at the last World Cup Mass Start in Val di Fiemme (ITA) in 2009, Bernhard Gruber (AUT) and Jan Schmid (NOR) are still active.

10 other venues and a total of 20 individual events are looking for new winners, while two Team Sprints and one Team event will bring out the team spirit in all nations. Most notable are the World Cup weekend in Otepää (EST) that attempts to bring the men’s World Cup and ladies’ Continental Cup together again in early January, Trondheim, where organisers offer a full Nordic Combined weekend (including the FIS Youth Cup) for the first time in recent history and the World Cup finals in Schonach.

Special trophies to be won are the King’s Cup for the winner of the Individual Gundersen event in Oslo (NOR) and the Schwarzwaldpokal, the traditional German reward for the winner of the Individual Gundersen event in Schonach. 

You can find the World Cup calendar here.

Athletes to watch

With that many prestigious events to win, who will be the main contenders for medals, crystal ball and trophies this winter? Notoriously hard to answer before the season starts but FIS Nordic Combined has compiled a shortlist of hopefuls.

Akito Watabe (JPN)
After a superb season 2017/18 he is certainly the hunted man: Japan’s Akito Watabe. The second Japanese after Kenji Ogiwara to win the Nordic Combined crystal globe, Watabe is tackling the new season with a lot of confidence and renewed will to succeed, as he revealed in TUESDAY TALK. His jumping skills and smart tactical moves on the cross-country track always make him into a dangerous opponent.

Jan Schmid (NOR)
Jan Schmid is another of these athletes that age like wine: getting better and better with time. Even though he ultimately ran out of steam last year, hyper-smart master tactician Schmid shows that he is a ruthless competitor who has a taste for winning and, like Watabe, is well-rounded with good ski jumping skills and solid to strong results on the cross-country track.

Fabian Rießle (GER)
Germany’s Fabian Rießle really came into his own in the last quarter of the season 2017/18, winning three events in a row in Trondheim and Klingenthal. His biggest takeaway from the past season: he can also be on top of things at the jumping hill, as he revealed in a past TUESDAY TALK. If he managed to tap this potential, Rießle is definitely among the atheltes to beat.

Johannes Rydzek (GER)
As a four-time Lahti 2017 gold medallist, Rydzek has a lot of titles to defend going into the World Championships in Seefeld. With nerves of steel, good level jumping and his excellent cross-country skills, he is always a danger and a candidate for the top results. His burning ambition relentlessly pushes him to new heights and paired with a new calm looking back on what he has already achieved, Rydzek should be in a good position mentally as well.

Eric Frenzel (GER)
Nordic Combined superstar Eric Frenzel is known for one thing: being at 100% at exactly the right time. Whatever the 30-year-old will pick for his next target this season, competitors and teammates alike should be afraid because what Frenzel wants, he usually gets. 43 World Cup victories, 12 World Championship medals, 3 Olympic gold medals and five crystal globes are a testament to this fact.

Mario Seidl (AUT)
Even though Seidl’s resume is nowhere near as impressive as Frenzel’s at the moment, the young Austrian has a good development going for him. For the Summer Grand Prix winner 2018, the season will be all about transporting his great summer shape into the winter and getting into good starting positions for the races with his superb ski jumping skills. 

Ilkka Herola (FIN)
Finland’s Ilkka Herola has been the Finnish team leader for so long already, nobody is really aware that he is still only 23 years of age. Celebrating his first-ever win on the highest level of Nordic Combined in this year’s Summer Grand Prix, Herola is now fully growing into his own skin. An athlete who is very strong on the skinny skis but also held his own very well on the jumping hill since this summer, Herola has found a new equilibrium as a Nordic Combined athlete that could get him far this winter.

Jarl Magnus Riiber (NOR)
Riiber, who made headlines with the various successes and disasters happening to him as a teenager has grown into a force to be reckoned with. With two fourth places from the Olympic Games in PyeongChang and six podiums in the last winter, he was close but not close enough. Effortlessly dominating the Norwegian national championships right before the season start might be an indicator of things to come from the ski jumping sensation who has found quite a bit engine on the track as well at age 21.