By Sandrine Wyrich
A Japanese ski jumper became only the third ever to complete the Four Hills Grand Slam. 22-year-old Ryoyu Kobayashi was unchallenged throughout the 67th edition of the Four Hills Tournament and won all competitions to take home the golden eagle trophy.
Always one of the highlights of the world cup winter and the biggest event in the Alps region, this season’s Four Hills Tournament was highly anticipated. Around 30,000 spectators were expected at each of the stations in Oberstdorf, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Innsbruck and Bischofshofen to watch the world’s best ski jumpers defy gravity and fight for glory. Ryoyu Kobayashi had been dominating the season so far and was the hands-down favourite going into the tournament.
Just after Christmas, the tour got underway on the Schattenbergschanze in Oberstdorf and Ryoyu was off to a perfect start. Difficult wind forced the athletes to deal with different conditions in each of their jumps and it was this season’s highflyer who handled it best. Jumps on 138.5m and 126.5m took him to his first victory of the tournament, although it wasn’t as sovereign as perhaps anticipated. German Markus Eisenbichler thrived under the home support to record jumps on 133m and 129m and became an unexpectedly close challenger to the Japanese. In the end, only 0.4 points separated the pair with Austrian Stefan Kraft completing the podium a further 1.4 points back. Full results: http://medias3.fis-ski.com/pdf/2019/JP/3099/2019JP3099RL.pdf
Two days later, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and it was again Ryoyu who proved to be best of the pack at the traditional New Year’s competition on the Olympiaschanze. It however wasn’t easy-going for him. Still riding on a wave of success from Oberstdorf, Markus again took the fight to the Japanese to keep himself in the running of the overall victory and turn into the big surprise of the tournament. The eventual points difference of 1.9 points kept them close together in the ranking and promised an exciting end to the tour. Joining them on the podium was Dawid Kubacki of Poland, another 8.5 points back. The tournament was however effectively over for Stefan Kraft who failed to reach the final round of the competition. Full results: http://medias3.fis-ski.com/pdf/2019/JP/3101/2019JP3101RL.pdf
The tournament moved on to Austria and a preliminary decision fell on the Bergisel-hill in Innsbruck. Ryoyu and Markus realistically were the only ones still in the running for the title and this time, the German couldn’t live up to his previous form. Finishing 13th and losing more than 40 points to his Japanese opponent, Markus lost his shot at the trophy but kept himself in second place of the overall ranking. Ryoyu meanwhile was in a league of his own, winning the competition with jumps on 136.5m and 130m and a 12.8 points advantage over Stefan Kraft in second. The podium was completed by Norwegian Andreas Stjernen. This left the only fight remaining for the final stage the one between Ryoyu and the myth of the Grand Slam. Full results: http://medias4.fis-ski.com/pdf/2019/JP/3103/2019JP3103RL.pdf
Nerves perhaps got to the Japanese who was only fourth after the first round of the final competition in Bischofshofen after a jump on 135m. However, outstanding skill and a jump on 137.5m in the second round saw him make up his disadvantage and eventually take a clear win with a 13.8 points advantage over Dawid Kubacki and Stefan Kraft in third. After Sven Hannawald in 2001-02 and Kamil Stoch last season, Ryoyu became only the third ski jumper ever to achieve the amazing feat of completing the Grand Slam. He furthermore became only the second ever Japanese jumper to win the Four Hills Tournament after Kazuyoshi Funaki in 1997-98. He said to the International Skiing Federation after the competition: “After my second jump I was just waiting, because I had given my all already. I’m very happy about my win, it’s unbelievable.” A fifth place was enough to keep Markus second in the table. He said: “This Four Hills Tournament was amazing. The second place in the overall ranking is great, this was my best Four Hills Tournament ever. I’m happy about this good result because the whole world is watching the Four Hills Tournament, I enjoy every day. Ryoyu Kobayashi is the well-deserved winner.” Narrowly missing out on the podium in fourth, German Stephan Leyhe was taken to an unexpected third place in the overall table. He said in Bischofshofen: “I closely missed the podium twice during this tournament and now I made it in the overall ranking. I’m very, very happy about that.” Full results: http://medias4.fis-ski.com/pdf/2019/JP/3105/2019JP3105RL.pdf
The ski jumping world cup now returns to business as usual as the elite prepares for next highlight of the winter with the Nordic World Ski Championships in Seefeld coming up in mid February.