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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

For the combined athletes, it’s about more than just medals

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Austria’s eagles again went away empty-handed when local hero Timi Zajc triumphed on the large hill.
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PLANICA. The Nordic World Championships in Planica are heading into the home stretch at the weekend with a packed program on Saturday and the traditional men’s cross-country 50s on Sunday. Austria’s ski jumping men extended their dry spell yesterday in the large hill individual. When the Slovenian Timi Zajc triumphed at home, the red-white-red eagles again went away empty-handed, Stefan Kraft had to settle for sixth place as the best. Today there is one last chance for a medal in the team competition (4.30 p.m., live ORF 1). For the Nordic combined athletes, the individual from the big Bakken (10 a.m./3 p.m., live ORF 1) is about more than just medals anyway.

The all-rounders in ski jumping and cross-country skiing have been under special observation throughout the winter. Because the International Olympic Committee made it clear in autumn that it intends to sharply reduce the starting fields for future winter games in this discipline. Due to the fact that women are not included in the Olympic program for 2026 and the threat status of men’s competitions from 2030, there is an urgent need for action. Above all, the IOC criticizes the concentration of the discipline on just a few countries, which has existed for a long time.

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The relay race last Wednesday once again showed the dilemma of the traditional sport. With Norway, Germany and Austria only three nations really fought for the podium places. “It’s a complex story, the balancing act between the two sports is enormous,” explains Christian Schwarz, head of the Nordic Training Center in Eisenerz, from Mühlviertel, one of the difficulties.

Development aid from large nations for weaker countries, such as biathlon demonstrated years ago with enormous success, is now one of the strategies to counteract this. In Seefeld at the World Cup there was a meeting of the five strongest countries. The Austrian Ski Association, for example, is supposed to help the Poles on their way in the future, while Norway is cooperating with the associations from Kazakhstan and Latvia.

New competition formats are also under discussion. “We tested a super sprint in the Continental Cup, where you only run 800 meters with heats and then jumping. A single-mixed team would certainly be a suggestion that you can also test in summer,” says FIS race director Lasse Ottesen, a former one World record holder in ski flying.

In the footsteps of Benkovic

The Japanese half-time leader Ryoyu Kobayashi secured silver, well behind 22-year-old Zajc, only the second Slovenian world champion after Rok Benkovic in 2005, and bronze went to Poland’s Dawid Kubacki.

With these nations as well as the Norwegian and German teams, Austria’s team will be fighting for the team competition medals today in front of a sold-out house. “We’ll keep it relaxed, it’s one of the coolest competitions, we’re sure to burn for it,” said Kraft in a combative manner. Daniel Tschofenig in 12th place, Jan Hörl in 14th place and Michael Hayböck from Thening in 15th place yesterday certainly have to improve today. Tschofenig promised: “We will attack fully.”

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It’s about more than just medals

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