Imagine it’s World Cup and nobody goes there. One could describe the situation before the ski flying championships in Planica like this or something like that. Training and qualification starts on Thursday in the Slovenian ski jumping mecca, and as of Tuesday it was not yet clear who from the once so successful Austrian team around world record holder Stefan Kraft could take part. After all, the coronavirus hit the team in full at the earliest possible time of the season – and thus overturned all plans for the World Cup winter in general and the first highlight in particular.
Kraft, Michael Hayböck, Gregor Schlierenzauer and Philipp Aschenwald as well as head coach Andreas Widhölzl had tested positive immediately after the first World Cup weekend in Wisla (November 21/22), at the World Cup in Russia there were now more bad news in the form of corresponding results Daniel Huber, Jan Hörl, Manuel Fettner and Thomas Lackner added.
For the second competition on Sunday, the Austrian Ski Association therefore took the entire team out of the competition to be on the safe side. Will such a scenario also threaten the World Cup? Mario Stecher, sporting director for ski jumpers and Nordic combined athletes, declines: “I think we’re well positioned,” he says – but it sounds more like optimism than real hope for medals. After all, after the most recent test, Huber of all people, the jumper who showed the most from the home team in the still short winter, definitely has no chance of a World Cup appearance.
It looks better at Schlierenzauer, Kraft, Hayböck and Aschenwald. In the meantime they have delivered negative test results, and another one before arriving in Planica is a prerequisite for moving into the “Bubble” and being able to take part in the competitions. Schlierenzauer, who wrote of a “high fever” after his positive test, feels ready, he feels “an enormous relief” and “recurring energy”.
How much the infection affected the substance remains to be seen. For the time being, one is relieved that the basic requirements for participating in the World Cup have been met. But this World Cup will definitely not be the same as always – even if someone goes.