World Cup dominator Jarl Magnus Riiber had a visitor checking in on him during a training session in early autumn: fondoitalia.it reporter Paolo Romano met the 22-year-old in Oslo and received an answer to the most burning question up front: From mid-September, Riiber will be able to get back on the hills and jump again after a crash earlier this summer forced him to the sidelines for a while.
You and your girlfriend Sunna welcomed daughter Ronja earlier this year. Has your perspective on life and sport changed?
Jarl Magnus Riiber: I would say I am even more responsible after my child was born. I want to be healthy and avoid injuries because Nordic Combined is my job and as such, it is also important for my family.
I drew a lot of motivation from that happy event but it also is something that makes you think about other issues than sports when you are at home. In the end some things have changed but lots of things are still similar to how there were before.
As a boy, you started your career in Nordic Combined but also competed in some ski jumping competitions too. What attracted you to Nordic Combined and has switching to Ski Jumping ever been a topic for you?
Riiber: I have always done Nordic Combined, I’d say since I was three years old because I had good talent in jumping but also in cross-country skiing. So it has been natural to me compete in Nordic Combined.
I tried to compete in ski jumping too, doing Continental Cup events four summers ago because in that period I had problems with my shoulder and some other health problems and sickness. I was thinking about switching to do only ski jumping but in the end I felt like I was unfinished doing only ski jumping. Ok, I won that jumping competition but then there was nothing to continue. No cross-country 10km. I wanted something more that could motivate me, and Nordic Combined is the perfect discipline that offers the full package in sport.
Ski jumping isn't in my head at all. Nordic Combined will be on my mind at least for the next nine to ten years. When I turn 30, I will obviously ask myself a few questions about how my body will function, whether to continue for another four years etc. At the moment it is the best job in the world to be a Nordic Combined athlete. It is not my mentality to plan year after year but I have a long-term plan. I won't say after the 2022 Olympics what can I do? I will still have fun doing Nordic combined for a long time. "
What do you think is your secret to jumping so long? Is it in your “atomic ankles” or your innate sensibility in flying… ?
Riiber: I do think it is mainly in the passion and huge interest that I have for Nordic Combined since I was a child. I participate in all aspects regarding our discipline. I really enjoy training day after day and doing lots of jumps and when you have fun it’s easier that you become a good athlete. This passion helps me to find clever solutions about what kind of training is better to follow to improve as a top athlete. This is probably the reason why I am at a high level in the jumping part.
At 22 years of age, do you think you still have an unexplored limit in Nordic Combined?
Riiber: Of course I think we can push the level even further in the hill and in cross-country too. Hopefully one day, I will have my level at 100% in both disciplines. Last year it was quite close for me in Ruka, because on that big hill the best jumpers can jump very far and the track fits my style of skiing well. I hope to be close to my maximum performance again this year.
Talking about reaching perfection: Nobody in Nordic Combined has ever done the perfect competition in a Gundersen event: first in Jumping and best time in cross-country. Do you aim to this in future?
Riiber: Last year, I was aiming for that perfect competition, going first and first, but it’s really hard. (laughs) You have to have a perfect day on the hill and need a hard cross-country track such as Ruka or Trondheim for example. Then it requires a good result list after jumping, so that there would be no or only little groups of chasers so that they can’t help each other during the 10 km. I think right now it’s almost impossible to achieve but one day it could happen.
Do you have a personal best to achieve that interests you the most? For example, the 48 victories of Hannu Manninen in the World Cup, the five crystal balls of Eric Frenzel or the three gold medals of Samppa Lajunen obtained in the same Olympic Games?
Riiber: These are all very difficult records to obtain. Hannu Manninen's 48 World Cup victories are truly impressive and I hope to be able to equal that record one day. Eric Frenzel was one of my favourite athletes to watch in my childhood, he's so good he has won a full five in a row. So to match all those great champions I will need to improve myself and win more medals at the World Championships and the Olympics.