Mythos Planica. The valley of the ski jumps has cleaned itself up. Finally, the winter sports enthusiasts Slovenians can show that this magical place also emanates world champion flair. The Nordic World Ski Championships, which began on Wednesday with the first qualifying competitions and will draw around 5 athletes from 600 nations to the Slovenia-Austria-Italy triangle until 66 March, has arrived home.
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After three unsuccessful attempts, Planica has been awarded the contract for the global showdown on the hill and in the cross-country ski run. "Planica, you queen of snow. Your reputation is known all over the world," says the catchy polka "Planica, Planica". With each long jump, the chorus is played.
In the awarding of the 24 world championship titles – twelve in cross-country skiing, seven in ski jumping, five in Nordic combined – the Germans also want to intervene decisively in addition to the seemingly overpowering Norwegians, who won 13 titles at the last World Championships in Oberstdorf. But there are no clear favourites. In the combined races, the focus will be primarily on Julian Schmid, who has already won three World Cups this season. The 23-year-old from Oberstdorf has put himself in a promising position through courageous performances.
Generational change in combination
He is the man of the future, he stands for the initiated generational change in the combined athletes, from which permanent national coach Hermann Weinbuch, in office since 1996, retires from his leadership post after the end of the season. Veteran Eric Frenzel, together with the Norwegian Björn Dählie with 17 medals the record winner at the Nordic World Ski Championships, and Johannes Rydzek have not made it into the top three this World Cup winter. "The younger generation has overtaken them," says Weinbuch. "This is clearly visible."
Someone like Andreas Wellinger, at the age of 27, is far from being a thing of the past. But he is experienced, he is an Olympic champion – and above all: he is back. World Cup victories in Lake Placid and Rasnov in the past two weeks have further strengthened his already great self-confidence. "He's back and has taken the lead in the team," says national coach Stefan Horngacher.
In the sport of ski jumping, which is particularly exposed to the capers of the weather and in which the athletes constantly and sensitively work on the flight system, it is not unusual for a long-standing expert to suddenly be at the forefront again. "At the moment he is our most promising jumper," says Horngacher, well aware that teammate Karl Geiger is one who won four medals in all four competitions at the home World Championships in the Allgäu.
"The ambience is absolutely amazing"
Wellinger expresses what many are currently thinking and feeling. "The ambience here in the mountains is absolutely amazing. That with sunshine, then nothing stands in the way of awesome competitions." In the Julian Alps, around the 1637-meter-high Vitranc, the sun is currently shining during these world champion days – and tens of thousands of spectators will regularly flock to the Nordic center of Planica, where the eight jumps lined up like organ pipes characterize the overall picture. "I've often been on my face in recent years," says Wellinger, who was repeatedly slowed down by injuries after his Olympic victory in 2018. "But I never lost my passion for ski jumping."
The passion for Nordic winter sports is boundless. This becomes particularly clear on the opening day of a biennial World Cup. It is the hour of the exotics. Those athletes who are already overjoyed to be there at all in a magical moment for them. Just like Karla Schleske. The 40-year-old Mexican experienced her very personal moment of glory on Wednesday in the five-kilometer freestyle race. It is her first World Cup participation.
For this, the long-standing heptathlete has swapped the tartan track with the cross-country ski run. "I love being in the snow and in the mountains," she says – and is irrepressibly happy about 29th place. Alaska, Colorado, Iceland – no distance is too far for the woman from the coastal town of Veracruz. "I want to bring this wonderful sport closer to my country and be the first Mexican woman at the Olympics in 2026," says Karla Schleske. It would be a first for a cross-country skier from the land of the Aztecs.
The time is ripe for Katharina Althaus
For the Lebanese Huguette Fakhry, the start in Planica was also a dream come true. Asked about her goal, the cross-country skier, who finished 39rd in the field of 33 starters, almost eight minutes behind, says quite immodestly: "I want to become world champion." For the woman from the Middle East, it is likely to remain a pipe dream. The same applies to the ambitious Iranian Samaneh Beyrami Baher, who trained on snow for only eight days before her start in Planica – and finished a respectable eighth.
"I'm very happy about that." The Oberstdorf ski jumper Katharina Althaus, who really reaches for the title this Thursday, also wants to be happy. She is in impressive form, having already won six times this World Cup winter. For them, the time seems ripe that after years in which there was a lot of silver at major events, the leap to the top finally succeeds. For this, they have to go down the small ski jump in the magical valley of Planica.