Four Hills Tournament: The crisis of the three German high-flyers

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EThe days were like intoxicated. But also several hours under immense pressure until Sven Hannawald finally made it. Four wins on four hills, acclaimed triumphant of the Four Hills Tournament. “The highlight of my sports life. For me, this tour was the hottest experience ever and it gave me back everything I invested twice, ”he enthuses:“ What could be nicer than later being the focus of a sport that you do from a young age? The tour has always been a top priority for me. “

It was almost 19 years ago, what felt like an eternity, that this dream became reality. But Hannawald, now 46, is still the last German winner of the Four Hills Tournament. The Germans have long been among the best in the world and have often been one or even two of the favorites in recent years. At the opening jump this Tuesday in Oberstdorf – because of the corona pandemic without spectators – this time they are Markus Eisenbichler and Karl Geiger. Others are worried: The fight of the former German victory jumpers Andreas Wellinger, Richard Freitag and Severin Freund takes place far from the top.

Olympia 2018: Karl Geiger, Stephan Leyhe, Richard Freitag, Andreas Wellinger (from left) cheer for their silver medals

Source: pa / Michael cap / Michael Kappeler

Norway’s ski jumping dominator Halvor Egner Granerud is currently enthroned there as a top favorite. The 24-year-old leads the overall World Cup after a moderate number of years and is the shooting star this winter. But right behind him on the list of favorites: Markus Eisenbichler, 29, second on tour two years ago. The 2019 world champion was in impressive shape this season until the Christmas break. Ski flying world champion Karl Geiger, 27, third last year, has to make a cold start in his home town of Oberstdorf after surviving the corona infection, but at least he is rid of the burden of the favorite.

Fight for a place in Garmisch

Freund, Freitag and Wellinger can only dream of such achievements at the moment. All three survived the qualification on Monday evening, but instead of the pressure of expectation, the former top performers have to grapple with concerns of a completely different kind. Because while Eisenbichler and Geiger can justifiably hope for an individual victory in one of the four tour stops or even for the coup at the end of the overall ranking, they have to fight to be part of the team at all after halfway through the traditional event.

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The competitions in Oberstdorf (4.30 p.m., ZDF / Eurosport) and the New Year’s jump in Garmisch (2.00 p.m., ARD / Eurosport) will be a test for them, during which they will have to recommend themselves for the stations in Innsbruck and Bischofshofen. For Austria, national coach Stefan Horngacher has to reduce his squad from twelve to six jumpers. It used to be a matter of course for the three of them.

A fall on the Bergisel and its consequences

Freund jumped to second place in the overall standings in 2016, Wellinger achieved the same in 2018 when Richard Freitag was still traded as Hannawald’s successor until the first round in Innsbruck. But one fall – and all hope was gone. Tour off for Friday and the beginning of his fight, which continues to this day.

At the time, there was great confidence that his health and mentality would quickly get back on his feet and that he might be able to prove this a little later at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. After all, the winter had started so promisingly back then. With Wellinger, Friday even achieved a German double victory shortly before the tour in Titisee-Neustadt and traveled to Oberstdorf as the World Cup leader.

December 2017: Richard Freitag (left) and Andreas Wellinger celebrate first and second place at the World Cup in Titisee-Neustadt

December 2017: Richard Freitag (left) and Andreas Wellinger celebrate first and second place at the World Cup in Titisee-Neustadt

Source: dpa / Patrick Seeger

As second in the tour standings behind the Pole Kamil Stoch, he then fell on the Bergisel – of all places, where his father had fallen and injured. Where Severin Freund fell and lost the tour.

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Since then, there have been more setbacks than glimmers of hope for Friday, so that this winter he was not even considered for the World Cup team and fought for every little progress in the second-rate Continental Cup. During the tour he is now part of the so-called national group. His example shows once again how fast it can go in this sport, how fragile the flight system is, how easily it can be shaken by little things. The most prominent case for some time has been the former child prodigy Gregor Schlierenzauer, 30, with 53 World Cup victories, record holder, but not in the team of Austrians for Oberstdorf. In the case of Friday, national coach Stefan Horngacher has hope: “I am convinced that he will strengthen us in the near future.”

Tough fight back after forced break

Like Friday, Wellinger has not yet had any World Cup points in his account this season – because he has not yet been able to use his chances despite several World Cup appearances. With the 2018 Olympic champion, however, it was clear that he would have to fight for the connection this winter, as the start of the season made his comeback after a one and a half year forced break due to a torn cruciate ligament.

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The fact that things are going so slowly is surprising and causes uncertainty among the only 25-year-old exceptional talent. “He has maneuvered himself quite on the sidelines,” said Horngacher, but doesn’t want to overestimate that: “The World Cup before Christmas in Engelberg looked bad, but it wasn’t that bad at all. I see the bottom of the valley with him. “

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Severin Freund, 32, world champion and overall World Cup winner in 2015, second in the 2016 tour and five years ago he was the last German to win the start of the tour in Oberstdorf, has been fighting for a long time. The veteran was badly battered by injuries, was thrown back again and again: hip surgery, two cruciate ligament tears, most recently a meniscus operation in February 2019 – and then there were also back problems. A tough road. But none of them want to give up, that is what the three have in common. Wellinger in particular is likely to make the jump back the quickest and easiest. But even he cannot accomplish miracles. “Dreaming is nice,” he said at the start of the season, “but I have to be realistic.”

While the fight of some for the connection and the other for the tour trophy begins this Tuesday, a former German tour winner wants to give his Golden Eagle back. Manfred Deckert, overall winner 1981/1982, is auctioning it on Ebay for the benefit of those affected by corona.

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