The 65th edition of the Four Hills Tournament is set to begin. This year there are many contenders for the title. Here we answer some of the key questions about the ski-jumping event.
Will the competition take place despite the mild winter?
Yes, the event's organizers gave the green light for the Four Hills Tournament in mid-December. The weather was cold enough to prepare the ski jumps with artificial snow at all four locations - Oberstdorf (December 30), Garmisch-Partenkirchen (January 1st), Innsbruck (January 4) and Bischofshofen (January 6). Sunny weather is expected for the first two competitions, which take place in Germany, while according to the long-term forecasts, there could even be some snow for the latter two, which are held in Austria.
What can be expected from Severin Freund?
The bar should not be set too high for Germany's best ski jumper. Freund took second place at last year's tournament but had to undergo hip surgery during the spring, which left him unable to train for five months. His victory at the World Cup opener in Kuusamo back in November was something of a fluke, and he has been unable to gain a spot on the podium ever since.
"I guess I'm a wild card this time around," said the 28-year-old before the opening jumps in Oberstdorf. "There is still work for me to do to get to where I want to be."
His main target is the World Cup event in Lahti at the end of February.
"I hope to be able to successfully defend my title," he said.
Last year, Freund won the first event of the Four Hills tournament in Oberstdorf.
"With his experience, he can quickly get back on the winning track," said Germany's coach Werner Schuster. "Opening at home is definitely an advantage."
What chances do the other German ski jumpers have?
Markus Eisenbichler 25, has been consistent in the last five World Cups. He finished third for his first World Cup podium finish at Lillehammer, something that gave a boost to his self-confidence. Nevertheless, he is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
"It would be counterproductive to already start thinking about his overall standing," he said.
Yet the tournament's history has often shown that jumpers can reach the top out of nowhere.
"Markus has been the most consistent so far, so hopes for him are high this year," said TV analyst Sven Hannawald, who in 2002 became the only man to win the tournament by winning all four events. However, he conceded that a top-three finish for Eisenbichler at one of the four locations of the event would be seen as a great success.
Germany's ski jumping prospects: Richard Freitag, Markus Eisenbichler, Andreas Wellinger and Severin Freund.
Richard Freitag, who was the winner at Innsbruck two years ago and Andreas Wellinger have both shown potential. Both of them have been making "great jumps during this winter," coach Schuster said.
Who is the favorite to win it all?
If you only take into consideration this season's World Cup results, Domen Prevc has to be the favorite. With four World Cup wins so far, the 17-year-old Slovenian is definitely among the favorites. But can he dominate the Four Hills tournament? World Cup form often counts for nothing at the Four Hills, where experience and consistency are the key.
"I wouldn't put my money on him," said Severin Freund.
Meanwhile, his older brother, Peter Prevc, is miles away from his form of last season when he convincingly won the Four Hills tournament with victories in Garmisch, Innsbruck and Bischofshofen. In addition Prevc won the Ski Jumping World Cup and the Flying World Championships. Despite his current form, the 24-year-old should not be written off. The list of favorites also includes the Norwegian, Daniel Andre Tande, and the Polish double gold medalist at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Kamil Stoch.
What about the Austrians?
The Austrian eagles are always strong contenders at the Four Hills tournament. Before Peter Prevc's victory in the last season's edition of the tournament, Austrian ski jumpers had won the competition seven times in a row. Stefan Kraft, the winner of the second-last edition of the Four Hills has achieved three World Cup podium finishes during the current season. Michael Hayböck also, who took third place last season, earned himself a place among the favorites with his World Cup win at Engelberg.