World Ski Flying Championship Returns to Planica, 10-13 December (Feature)

By , 09 Dec 2020, 11:16 AM Sport
Planica Planica Wikipedia - Miran Hojnik CC-by-SA-2.0

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STA, 8 December 2020 - The world's top ski jumpers will converge on Slovenia's Planica this week for the Ski Flying World Championships, which has been moved up from March due to the Covid-19 epidemic. The event will be held for the first time without spectators, under floodlights, and under strict anti-epidemic rules.

Last season ended prematurely for ski jumpers and the Ski Flying World Championships was postponed to December. After almost nine months, Slovenia is thus finally hosting the main ski flying event in the world.

Slovenian jumpers will be defending their team silver medal from Germany's Oberstdorf in 2018, although without spectators, who traditionally pack the stadium below the large hill of the Planica Nordic Centre and create a roaring atmosphere.

Planica under floodlights for the first time, without spectators and under strict ant-epidemic measures

This time, the valley under the Ponce mountains in the north-western corner of Slovenia will be fully closed for spectators, and access to the valley by car will be prohibited. Fans of ski flying will have to watch the ski flyers at home.

This is not the only unusual thing, as it will also be the first time in the history of the Gorišek Brothers' ski flying hill that a competition will be held under artificial lights. The organisers needed a lot of them, equalling to lighting of two football stadiums in Ljubljana, head of competition Jelko Gros has told the STA.

Immediately after the competition was cancelled in March due to the coronavirus outbreak, the organisers saved around 9,000 cubic metres of snow from the area, which has been preserved to be used for the competition in December.

The organisation is much more difficult than usual, as precautionary measures need to be taken for possible positive Covid-19 tests. For this reason, the event will be organised with the smallest possible number of staff.

Gros will be heading a competition at Planica for the last time, and his current assistant Aljoša Dolhar will take over from him for the World Cup season finale next March.

"Due to coronavirus, we have managed the event in a way that enables it to continue even if some of were to test positive or had to be quarantined due to contact with an infected person," Gros described the problems related to Covid-19.

All participants will need to be tested, and the area will be divided into two zones. As many as 80 staff will organise the competition in the green (safe) zone or the snowflake, as the quarantine bubble is called in the winter sport circles.

The remaining staff will be in the grey zone, where they will be tested with rapid tests performed by the Jesenice general hospital. Persons from the two zones are not expected to be in contact, except in special circumstances.

Slovenian "eagles" have eight medals from world championships, but none from Planica

Slovenian ski jumpers have so far won eight medals at the Ski Flying World Championships, but none of them comes from Planica, which will this year host the event for the seventh time after 1972, 1979, 1985, 1994, 2004 and 2010.

The first medal (silver) was won by Primož Ulaga in Oberstdorf in 1988, who was followed by Urban Franc in Kulm in 1996 (bronze), and Robert Kranjec in Vikersund in 2012 (gold). It was there that Kranjec and his compatriots Jernej Damjan, Jurij Tepeš and Jure Šinkovec won the team bronze.

Two years later in Harrachov, Peter Prevc won bronze, and the most successful Slovenian ski jumper ever also won the world champion title in Kulm in 2016. At the latest championship in Oberstdorf, Slovenians continued the medal streak by returning home with the team silver in the line-up Peter and Domen Prevc, Anže Semenič and Jernej Damjan.

Slovenians ski flyers are determined to finish on the podium in Planica, with head coach Gorazd Bertoncelj having already selected the competitors from the ranks of the home nation - Anže Lanišek, Bor Pavlovčič, Žiga Jelar, Peter Prevc, Timi Zajc and Domen Prevc.

Slovenians are not really in an excellent shape, but large ski flying hills have always served as a "wake up" for them, which is something they are counting on this year.

Many unknowns about competition as coronavirus affects ski jumping

Ski jumpers have not been spared the coronavirus pandemic in the new season, and Ski Jumping World Cup director Sandro Pertile will miss the event as he has tested positive. It is not known yet what the competition will actually be like.

Having the most problems is the Austrian team, where the nine positive jumpers include Stefan Kraft, the world record holder (253.5 metres in Vikersund in 2017) and the World Cup winner from last season.

Four of them have since returned negative tests, including Kraft. The decision on who will represent Austria is expected to be taken by Wednesday.

On the other hand, the Norwegian team is coming to Slovenia in an excellent shape, after winning the team gold and the individual gold medal (Daniel-André Tande) at the last world championship in 2018. This time, the role of favourite will be played by Halvor Egner Granerud, who has won the last three World Cup events.

Having entered the season on a roll are the Germans with Markus Eisenbichler, the winner of the last event held at the Gorišek Brothers hill. Poland's Kamil Stoch, Dawid Kubacki and Piotr Žyla, who missed the last World Cup event in Russia and are training for the world championship at home, are also known for their aptitude for long flights.

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