LAKE PLACID – While thousands of Poles descended on the Olympic Jumping Complex last weekend for the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup, Austria's Stefan Kraft stole the show.
Kraft, the current World Cup points leader, reclaimed a pair of victories on Saturday in the super team competition and on Sunday in the individual competition.
He won Sunday's individual race on the big hill with a total of 281.6 points after two jumps, ahead of Slovenia's Lovro Kos and Germany's Philipp Raimundo, who tied for second with 278.4 points.
“It was a really tight competition, today on the podium (about) two points were decided,” Kraft said. “I'm really happy with my jumps. I was really steady and really good. The conditions at the top were not so easy for the first 30 meters, so I'm really proud that I managed it today.”
Kraft, a 2022 Olympic gold medalist, opened Sunday's competition by jumping as far as possible in the qualifying round, building a three-point lead over the second-place jumper before the final round.
Even with the lead, Raimund put pressure on Kraft when he recorded the farthest jump of the day. Raimund soared 135 meters, equaling Kos.
“Philipp made a huge leap, but when you go down the gate it's not always easy,” Kraft said. “I knew I had to make a really great jump and I'm happy it worked out.”
While Kraft didn't have his best jump in the final round when he jumped 126 meters, he did enough to claim his eighth World Cup win of the season.
“(It's crazy. It's my best season yet,” Kraft said.
Polish ski jumping fans were out in force again at the World Cup this weekend, despite none of the Polish jumpers making it onto the podium.
In Poland, ski jumping is one of the most popular sports, so the majority of the visitors were Polish-Americans who traveled from all over the United States to watch the World Cup.
“We feel at home almost everywhere, especially here when many Poles came from all over the USA,” Polish jumper Kamil Stoch said. “It's amazing. No matter how far we jump, they support us and give us good energy.”
Stoch, a four-time Olympic medalist with three golds, had never competed in the U.S. before this weekend. However, he did not have the best results, he was placed 41st on Saturday and 24th on Sunday.
“I'm a little disappointed with my performance,” he said. “I have to stay calm and positive. But it was still a nice weekend. I received a lot of positive energy, especially from the audience.”
Piotr Zyla was the best finisher among the Polish teams, finishing fourth in Sunday's individual competition. Pole Aleksander Zniszczol had a solid sixth place finish on Saturday. Zniszczol and Dawid Kubacki finished seventh in the super team event.
Team USA's best finisher on Sunday was Andrew Urlaub, who placed 39th out of 50 jumpers with 99.9 points. The United States had Casey Larson in 40th place with 98.6 points, Kevin Bickner in 43rd place with 96 points and Decker Dean in 49th place with 75.7 points.
Super team action
The Austrian team of Kraft and Michael Hayboeck secured victory by a narrow margin of 0.2 points in the superteam competition on Saturday night. The German team of Philipp Raimund and Andreas Wellinger finished in second place, and the Norwegian team of Marius Lindvik and Johann Andre Forfang took third place.
“I felt good (Saturday) in the team competition and had three really good jumps to get the team back,” Kraft said.
The Germans placed second with 809 points and the Norwegians third with 793.6 points. The team from Japan with Ren Nikaido and Ryoya Kobayashi finished in fourth place.
The surprise of the day was the Italians, who finished in fifth place ahead of teams from Slovenia, Poland and Switzerland.
The United States team of Larson and Urlaub placed 10th out of 11 teams with 402.6 points.
In the opening World Cup event on Saturday morning, Slovenian Kos won his first career World Cup medal when he placed first in the 128m individual event.
Kos, who faced tough wind conditions, scored a two-jump total of 278.9 points, edging Japan's Kobayashi (278.1 points) by 0.8. Third was the Norwegian Lindvik with 277.8 points.
The 24-year-old was a little surprised to get his first career win in Lake Placid “I knew I was close, but I didn't think my time had come yet,” he said. “I think it was a different mindset, I went into the competition with the goal of winning and I got on the podium.
In Saturday's test round, Austrian Kraft did the best with a jump of 127.5 meters for 152.3 points, but a mistake in the second and final round, which earned him 94.7 points after a 104-meter jump, dropped him to 24th place overall.
“I risked too much,” he said. “I was too aggressive, but that's just my style. That's Stefan Kraft and sometimes it doesn't work out so well.'
Larson was the top jumper for the USA, placing 36th with 112.6 points. Bickner was 43rd with a 103.0 and Urlaub was 48th with a 90.
Longtime ski jumping competitor Simon Ammann of Switzerland made his 500th career World Cup start on Sunday.
He became only the second ski jumper to ever start in 500 World Cup events. Japan's Noriaki Kasai is the only other competitor with more starts. Kasai started 569 World Cups between 1988 and 2020. Ammann said he is honored to join the elite group, but doesn't know if he will ever catch Kasai.
“I never look for numbers,” Ammann said. “It's always a tough sport and I'm lucky to have really good (results). The last few (years) have been more difficult, but I don't mind that it's just ski jumping.”
Ammann won four Olympic gold medals and finished on the podium 80 times during his World Cup career, including 23 victories.
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