In one week, the Nordic Combined World Cup will be in action again. High time to look at the highlights, novelties and possible favorites for the Olympic winter of 2017/18.
The calendar itself
It is a record version: 28 World Cup events in 13 venues plus three Olympic events make the season the longest one ever.
First highlight and letting the World Cup start on a very high note already is the newly-created Ruka Tour: three days of competitions are held in the Finnish resort and the obtained World Cup points will be counted together to produce a first mini-tour winner already after the first weekend.
The World Cup weekend will not only feature one but two premieres: the first Nordic Combined World Cup level event in the Baltic country and the first-ever Ladies’ Continental Cup will take place in early January.
Nordic Combined TRIPLE
At its customary position in late January, the fifth edition of the Nordic Combined TRIPLE will take place together with the Cross-Country World Cup in a pre-World Championship test this year. The TRIPLE is still looking for the first athlete to beat serial winner Eric Frenzel, who prevailed against strong opponents and all odds in the past four years.
FIS Nordic Junior World Championships
While the boys will have the chance to compete for three gold medals, in the Individual Gundersen 10 km, 5 km and the Team Event, the Nordic Combined girls are, again, having a premiere: the first-ever Ladies’ Nordic Combined test event at championships. While they will not be able to score a medal yet this year, the females of the disciplines are making their first steps on a bigger stage.
Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang
Without a doubt the most important time of the winter. Three gold medals are on the line in an Individual Gundersen event on the normal and large hill and a Team Event. Defending champions are Eric Frenzel (GER), Jørgen Graabak (NOR) and Team Norway.
World Cup Finals in Schonach
For the third time in a row, Schonach in the Black Forest is hosting the season finals. The big question: will Eric Frenzel be able to get his hands on an unbelievable sixth crystal globe in a row or can somebody put an end to his winning streak?
A blue bib for the best ski jumper and a red bib for the best cross-country skier will be introduced. The athletes will score points for each individual ranking in the jumping and cross-country parts, the athletes with the highest scores each win the Best Jumper Trophy and the Best Skier Trophy at the end of the season. The Jumper and Skier Trophy winner will also receive prize money at the end of the season. 500 CHF per competition will be taken from the overall prize money pool, setting the sum for the blue and red bib winners to 7000 CHF each. In case of cancellations, the prize money has to be adapted.
After a long competition break on snow over the summer, it is notoriously difficult to predict the success of individual athletes. We still would like to try and sort through the names of some favourites, newcomers and comeback kids.
The King of Nordic Combined. With five overall victories and 41 World Cup victories under his belt and an Olympic title to defend, he is always in contention for the top results, medals and trophies. Especially as he is known to start slowly into a season and built his top shape exactly on time for the big highlights.
Podium potential: Is this a rhetorical question?
Frenzel’s big rival of the past season and a four-time gold medallist in Lahti in his own right. With some goals (TRIPLE win, overall World Cup victory, Olympic individual medal) still to achieve and a burning ambition like Rydzek’s, the route to triumphs seems mapped out for him.
Podium potential: Oh yes. Always!
Even though of a quieter nature, the 29-year-old still has an impressive merit list to show for: Olympic silver, 9 World Cup victories and an enormous array of second and fourth places. Can he turn the tables and step up on the topmost step of the podium this year?
Podium potential: Definitely always given! It might be rank two, though! =)
The third German in this list (which could definitely be extended with more athletes after their amazing performance last winter) is one of the fastest athletes on the track. If his jumping and skiing comes together in the right way, Rießle is one for the podium, if not for the victories. An Olympic bronze medal and five World Cup victories are testament to that.
Podium potential: Yep. Definitely one to watch out for.
The young Austrian has had quite a development: from rising young gun to team leader in all but a season. Even though an individual World Cup victory still eludes the 25-year-old, the talented ski jumper has discovered his love for the jumping hill in PyeongChang last winter. Not a bad prerequisite for Olympic glory… and who says you have to win a World Cup before taking an Olympic gold, right Jørgen Graabak?
Podium potential: Yes, even though it’s probably more likely to happen on a large hill.
Ilkka Herola & Eero Hirvonen
Both of the young Finnish athletes had a stable development last year and ended up on ranks six and seven in the overall World Cup standings respectively. While Ilkka has cracked the podium with a third place in Lillehammer in 2015, Eero followed through with a second place at the World Cup in Lahti last winter, to the delight of the home crowd. Also battling through some disappointing results, the two Finnish athletes have grown into names to contend with.
Podium potential: On a good day, yes.
While the veteran on the Norwegian team did not have a good last season, his summer training has been promising and two undisputed back-to-back victories at the Summer Grand Prix Finals in Planica have put him back on the list of athletes to watch. As an additional motivation: one more World Cup victory (26) would make him the most successful Norwegian Nordic Combined athlete ever and an individual Olympic gold medal is still missing in his medal collection as well.
Podium potential: Hard to say but not impossible given his drive to excel. Bigger chance on smaller hills.
Maxime Laheurte cracked the individual podium twice, all the way back in 2006. After being part of the very successful French team for many years, he quietly matured into his strength, while his more successful teammates Jason Lamy Chappuis and Francois Braud took the more spectacular results. An accomplished ski jumper, Laheurte showed promising performances during this year’s Summer Grand Prix. With constant Top Ten ranks in the events he started in, he finished on the overall sixth position.
Podium potential: 50/50. He’s not such an obvious candidate for success as the athletes higher up in the list but we have a feeling about him this year…
Like Laheurte, Ilves is not the most obvious athlete who makes you think about the podium. But the team leader of the Estonian squad has matured into an athlete to be reckoned with, as the victory in this year’s Summer Grand Prix proves. A big home event in Otepää will further motivate the 21-year-old.
Podium potential: Maybe not necessarily the podium but a Top Ten position should be possible for the Estonian eventually.
Jarl Magnus Riiber is back after fixing his shoulder injury that caused him to sit out large part of the 2016/17 season. Finnish legend Hannu Manninen continues his comeback and aims for further Olympic glory at PyeongChang. Fellow legend, Frenchman Jason Lamy Chappuis has also returned after finishing his pilot education. He’s in to enjoy one more season before returning to flying for good.