VMaybe everyone does it like Peter Schlickenrieder. The team boss of the German cross-country skiers has developed a very special strategy for the world championships in Nordic skiing. “We absorb the energy that this place has in store.”
Oberstdorf has dressed up. For the third time, the world’s best ski jumpers, cross-country skiers and Nordic combined athletes come to the valley of the Schanzen in the southernmost tip of Germany. The home World Cup in the Allgäu – for most of the 37 athletes nominated by the German Ski Association (DSV) for the Nordic rendezvous, it is a career highlight. This is one of the reasons why Schlickenrieder called on Tuesday in a digital press conference to get in the mood: “Everyone has to show their best life’s work here.”
Two years ago, at the last test of strength on the Tyrolean high plateau in Seefeld, the Germans won a lot. Six world championship titles and three other medals – such successes are not to be expected in Oberstdorf. Horst Hüttel, the team manager of the ski jumping department, which is so famous in Seefeld, doesn’t want to know anything about specific figures and goals. The day before the title fights, which will open this Wednesday at 8 p.m. with a laser show in the ski jumping stadium on Schattenberg, Hüttel kept a low profile.
Rather, he was looking forward to the ski jumping women, who are finally getting the appreciation they deserve in Oberstdorf. For the first time in the history of the World Cup, they are allowed to jump from the large hill – just as the world champions Markus Eisenbichler and Karl Geiger have always done. “It is now just about time,” said Hüttel. “The girls are ready for it.”
Oberstdorf has long felt ready to be a world championship host for around 800 athletes from 60 nations. The Nordic championships have already taken place here twice, in 1987 and 2005. To be there a third time, like now, everyone involved fought mightily and suffered defeats. After four unsuccessful attempts in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019, the Allgäu finally won the contract in 2016 in Cancún. Since then, there has been a lot of work to top the 2005 Festival. 40 million euros were invested to bring the sports facilities up to date, the majority of which was taken over by the federal and state governments.
Then came Corona – and the bitter realization: viewers are not there. DSV President Franz Steinle and World Cup managing director Moritz Beckers-Schwarz had expected 400,000 visitors. There would have been almost twice as many as last in Seefeld. But now the motto is: Papplikum instead of an audience. Both in the ski jumping stadium on the Schattenbergschanze and in the nearby Ried cross-country skiing center, cardboard photo busts now adorn the grandstands. “We have to make the best of the situation,” says Steinle. “The past few weeks have shown that skiing can deliver fascinating competitions even without spectators.” Steinle is convinced: “It will definitely not be a bloodless ghost World Cup.” Safety is the key. “With our strict rules, we ensure that this World Cup does not pose an increased risk,” says Beckers-Schwarz. Corona tests now take place every 48 hours; previously, a test cycle of four to six days was planned.
Although spectators are not allowed due to the pandemic, there is a lot of activity in Oberstdorf. Around 5000 people – athletes, supervisors, officials and media representatives – are in the market town, which, like so many other cities, is also suffering from the consequences of the lockdown. For months, Oberstdorf has been losing 25,000 euros a day due to the lack of tourist taxes alone. Economic losses should be offset by sporting gains. It is already a win that the Norwegian cross-country skiers and combiners are giving up cover at home and venturing back into the Alps.
Because of Corona, the dominators of the trail in the World Cup had taken a self-imposed break. But now the athletes who are among the World Cup favorites like combined athlete Jarl Magnus Riiber and cross-country skier Therese Johaug feel ready to present themselves to a wider public again. The German cross-country team boss Schlickenrieder is happy that the best of the best are back. This changes little in the hopes and dreams of the DSV starters. “Top six or top eight in the singles”, says Schlickenrieder, that would be the highest of feelings for the cross-country skiers, who after all came up to the medal places in the season as fourth in the World Championship from Seefeld.
So stay and especially the ski jumpers and Nordic combined athletes. As with the ski jumping women around Carina Vogt, Katharina Althaus and Juliane Seyfarth, the title fights in Oberstdorf also offer women combiners a world championship stage for the first time. Premiere in singles – with the German Jenny Nowak, who has not yet been able to show what achievements she is capable of on the cross-country ski run and on the hill. At the only World Cup competition this winter in Ramsau, she was 13.
In Oberstdorf things are now happening in rapid succession. Twelve of the 24 decisions will take place from Thursday to Sunday. The German team, free of official medal expectations, feels ready. And anyway, Schlickenrieder, who is always happy while sucking energy in Oberstdorf. “We have a smile on our face.”