LONDON (Reuters) – The world of ski jumping is waiting to see if triple Olympic gold medallist Kamil Stoch will recover from an ankle injury in time for Beijing but even if fit the Pole faces a daunting task in holding off the challenge of Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi.
Stoch won both individual golds in 2014, successfully defending the large hill title in 2018 and also adding a team bronze, but he has struggled for form this season and suffered a major setback when sustaining his injury on Jan. 12.
He is currently undergoing a fast-track recovery regime but the chances of another gold or even a podium place in a sport where big event surprises are no surprise are starting to look slim.
More than ready to take up the baton is Kobayashi, who is bidding to become the first Japanese jumper to win gold on foreign snow following the home success of Kazuyoshi Furnaki in Nagano 1998, when Japan also took team gold, and Yukio Kasaya in Sapporo 50 years ago.
Kobayashi is the clear World Cup leader heading into the Games and underlined his form with a dominant display at the Four Hills Tournament where he won three of the four events three years after sweeping all four.
Hanging over the 25-year-old, however, is a relatively poor major event CV. He managed only seventh and 10th place finishes in Pyeongchang and has made the top 10 only once in his four world championship competitions.
Should he slip up on the big stage again there are a host of contenders ready to step up to the plate.
Austrian Daniel Huber, a double world championship silver medallist, Germany’s Karl Geiger – currently second in the World Cup standings – and a strong Norwegian contingent that includes three-time Olympic medallist Robert Johansson, are all likely to be in the hunt.
Women will compete at the Olympics for the third time, on the normal hill, though Norway’s 2018 champion Maren Lundby has opted not to defend her title for health reasons, citing the pressure of trying to control her weight to stay competitive.
Austria’s Marita Kramer looks favourite after dominating the World Cup circuit while Sara Takanashi of Japan, bronze medallist in 2018 and with a remarkable 61 World Cup victories to her name at the age of 25, should also be in the mix.
The men will compete on the normal hill on Feb. 6 and on the large hill on Feb. 12 with the women’s individual competition on Feb. 5. The men’s team event is on Feb. 14 with the first-ever mixed team event taking place on Feb. 7.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Peter Rutherford)