Schedule of Events
Four years ago, there was a furor as the IOC continued to deny female ski jumpers the opportunity to compete for Olympic medals despite the demand. In Sochi the long struggle has finally paid off, as women will finally take to the launch pad and fly for a shot at history.
Unfortunately for American fans, the best domestic hope for the inaugural women’s gold medal — Sarah Hendrickson of Salt Lake City — is fighting to come back from a full knee blowout (torn ACL, MCL and meniscus) that occurred in August. The 19-year-old is already the defending world champion in the sport, though her lack of pre-Olympics competition could prove detrimental.The safer money for the first women’s gold is Japan’s Sara Takanashi. Just 17 years old, Takanashi took silver behind Hendrickson at the world championships last February and is the defending World Cup champion. Three years ago she vaulted onto the international scene, taking sixth at the 2011 world championships as a 14-year-old. In Sochi, Takanashi — who has won all but one World Cup event so far this season as she builds her title defense — will be in position to make history.
Of course, the one woman besides Takanashi to win a World Cup event this season would love to capture the crown as well. Irini Avvakumova will be Russia’s best hope to land on the podium. She won the jump at Chaykovsky, Russia on January 4, and has landed on five podiums so far this season. Other threats on the women’s side include France’s Coline Mattel, who won the competition at Sochi in last season’s World Cup; Austria’s Jacqueline Seifriedsberger, bronze medalist at the most recent world championships; and Carina Vogt, currently the closest woman to Takanashi in the World Cup standings.
No matter who emerges from the field, though, the woman who finally hears her national anthem and feels the weight of gold around her neck will culminate a decade-long struggle for IOC acceptance. A new chapter of Olympic history will be written on February 11.
On the men’s side of the equation, Thomas Morganstern’s recent crash earlier this month in Austria could have a precipitous impact on the competition in Sochi. This accident, which only happened two weeks ago on the Kulm hill less than two hours north from Morganstern’s hometown, left the ski jumper hospitalized with a skull fracture and bruised lung:
A gold medalist in both Torino and Vancouver, Morganstern exited the hospital a week ago and is valiantly attempting to return to fitness in time for the Olympics. But even should he manage to make it to Russia, it is unlikely that he will be a favorite compared to several of his Austrian teammates.
The top Austrian at the moment is 24-year-old Gregor Schlierenzauer, currently ranked second in the World Cup standings. Four years ago, Schlierenzauer emerged as a 20-year-old bronze medalist on both the normal hill and large hill in Vancouver and part of Austria’s gold-medal winning effort in the team competition. He will be the favorite from his nation in the absence of Morganstern.
Another Austrian to watch for is 21-year-old Thomas Diethart. Winner of the prestigious Four Hills tournament earlier this season with winning jumps at both Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Bischofshofen, Diethart could potentially have a breakthrough Olympiad much like Schlierenzauer did four years ago.
Both men will be competing against a tough field, however. Simon Ammann, winner of both individual events four years ago (and the only man to sweep the large and normal hill at two different Olympics, having also accomplished the double in Salt Lake City), is back as Switzerland’s primary hope to reach a podium in this event. Anders Bardal, defending world champion on the normal hill, and his compatriot Anders Jacobsen offer a pair of contenders for Norway, which also took bronze in the team competition four years ago.But the biggest threats at this point have to be Poland’s Kamil Stoch and Slovenian ski jumper Peter Prevc. Stoch, current world champion on the large hill, is also leading Schlierenzauer in the current World Cup standings. With the retirement of Adam Malysz, who took two silvers behind Ammann in Vancouver, Stoch is the undisputed leader of the Polish contingent.
Prevc, just 21 years old like Diethart, was the silver medalist behind Stoch on the large hill and the bronze medalist behind Bardal and Schlierenzauer on the normal hill at last year’s World Championships in Val di Fiemme. In four years, Prevc has gone from a rookie to one of the most consistent leapers on the circuit. Last season he won the Adidas Distance Award in the World Cup, the sum total of all his jumps throughout the season adding up to over seven kilometers. Both men could steal the spotlight in Sochi from the Austrians.
Also in the hunt will be Japan’s 41-year-old legend Noriaki Kasai. A ski flying world champion way back in 1992, Kasai will set a new Winter Olympic mark when he takes to the hills for his record seventh Games in Sochi. While he is twice the age of some of his competition, he is still competitive on the World Cup circuit (currently ranked sixth, with a win on the Kulm and three podium finishes so far this season) and a dark-horse candidate to watch.