Sunday, 3 February 2008

Morgenstern jumps clear...

It's been a while since I wrote about ski-jumping. A massive three whole weeks, in fact. Whilst there's been no demand for more features on this under-appreciated sport, I have no plans to stop writing them just yet. After this weekend's breathtaking action in Sapporo, why should I?

The Sapporo hill proved incredibly difficult to conquer. Hosting both a night even on Saturday and a daylight jump today, many experienced jumpers failed to make it above 100 metres. The number of big names who didn't even get as far as the calculation line was nothing short of shocking, and both Ahonen and Schlierenzauer didn't even turn up, preferring to stay at home and give Japan a miss.

With Austrian Thomas Morgenstern all but certain of taking the 2008 FIS World Cup title, he could even afford the luxury of a couple of 'off' days and still extend his lead in the series. From Saturday's opening round however, it was clear that Morgenstern doesn't have 'off' days. Only the Austrian (131) and Finn Janne Haaponen (130) broke the 130 metre mark on Saturday. Austrian Martin Koch completed the podium, and big names such as Tom Hilde, Andreas Kuettel and Anders Bardal scraped into the top 10. Germany's Michael Neumayer found the hill too much of a challenge to read, ending up a lowly 17th in Saturday's round.

And so to Sunday. With jumps of 134 and 139 metres, Morgenstern pulverised his opponents and barring the kind of miracle not even found in the bible, the title is his. The Austrian sits over 500 points clear of Four Hills winner Ahonen, and the Finns decision to ship Sapporo all but signalled an intention not to contest the title any further.

The Austrian's second round jump was just a metre short of the hill record, and his huge smile of almost disbelief as he came to a stop summed up just how superior the Austrian has been all season. Haaponen again finished second and was the only other man to breach 130 metres, whilst Bardal took third, and Neumayer looked more comfortable, leading for much of the second round but eventually coming in 6th.

With 10 rounds to go, and Morgenstern in this kind of form, it's hard to see anything other than a landslide. "My goal is (to win) the World Cup overall, and next year the world championships on my favourite hill in Liberec. It will be one of my biggest goals after this goal this year." Who would bet against this amiable 21 year old prodigy?

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