This year, German ski jumpers are not predicted to finish in the medals at the prestigious Four Hills Tournament. Competitors from Austria, Poland and Switzerland are considered to be among the favorites.
Martin Schmitt, 32, is still an important part of the team
The Four Hills Tournament is a series of four ski jump competitions timed to ring in the New Year. The 59th edition of the competition starts in the German town of Oberstdorf on Wednesday, followed by the New Year's Day jumps in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. After that, the tournament moves to Austria, with jumps in Innsbruck on January 3 and in Bishofshofen on January 6.
At the end of the tournament, the competitor with the best overall score from the four events is declared the winner.
For German fans of ski jumping, it seems ages ago since Sven Hannawald swept the events of the Four Hills Tournament in the 2001-02 competition. He became the first ski jumper to win all four events of the tournament, a feat that has yet to be matched. But if Germany's current form is anything to go by, they'll be lucky to crack the top-10 in the overall standings, let alone win any of the events.
Young German Pascal Bodmer could crack the top 10
"Of course we would rather go into the competition as one of the favourites," said German ski jumping coach Werner Schuster. "But it's our goal for at least one of our ski jumpers to make it into the top 10."
The former stars of the German team, Martin Schmitt and Michael Uhrmann, are both 32 and not in very good form. Schmitt's best days on the hills may be behind him, but according to coach Schuster, due to his experience - Schmitt is competing in his 15th Four Hills Tournament - he remains an important part of the team.
With Schmitt no longer expected to reach the podium, it will be young up-and-coming ski jumpers such as Severin Freund and Pascal Bodmer who will likely be Germany's best hopes for cracking the top 10.
"The young guys are still really coachable," Schuster said. "They'll have to show what they can do at the first and second events in particular. That's where the wheat is separated from the chaff."
Austria 's Morgenstern is the favorite
The Austrians, with their duo of Thomas Morgenstern and Andreas Kofler are considered to be favorites, and are going for their third consecutive overall win. Morgenstern is on form, having won four consecutive World Cup events this season. He's trying to go into the Four Hills as relaxed as possible.
Austria's Thomas Morgenstern is one of the favourites
"I don't wrack my brain over winning the tournament," Morgenstern said. "I still just want to continue to have fun. Ski-jumping is not the most important part in my life."
Kofler, the defending Four Hills title holder, said he didn't feel any added pressure going into this year's competition.
"I can be calm about it and start with a lot of pleasant anticipation since I've already won the Tournament," he said.
Austria's national coach, Alexander Pointer, is quite optimistic about a win. "We don't need to be overmodest," he said. "I see two exceptional athletes on the ski-jumping circuit at the moment: Morgenstern and Kofler."
But there is some bad news for the Austrian team as well. Gregor Schlierenzauer, who has twice won the Ski Jumping World Championship, will not be able to compete in the first two of the four tournament events due to an injured knee.
"It's a tough decision for me. But my head tells me that this is right thing to do for the long-term," the 20-year-old Schlierenzauer said.
Schmitt won't quit after this year's season
Polish ski jumper Adam Malysz and Simon Ammann from Switzerland have set out to stop the Austrian wave of success. Ammann, who has won four Olympic titles - including two gold medals in Vancouver - has yet to win the Four Hills Tournament.
"The tournament is hugely attractive and its mystique gets bigger and bigger, as my chances of winning get " he said. "So far, the tournament has been a tough nut to crack for me."
A maximum of 57,000 euro ($75,000) awaits the winner of the Four Hills Tournament if he ties the record by German ski jumper Hannawald. In addition to the prize money, there will be a car worth some 30,000 euro ($40,000).
Author: Olivia Fritz/ sst (SID)
Editor: Chuck Penfold