Top In­ter­na­tional World Cup Con­tenders

SkiTrax - - Contents - By Peter Graves and Karen Mes­sen­ger

by Peter Graves and Karen Mes­sen­ger

Cross-coun­try

Last sea­son, the FIS World Cham­pi­onships in Falun, Swe­den were in­deed a huge suc­cess in ev­ery way. No­table mem­o­ries in­clude Alex Har­vey's medal-win­ning ski­ing, Pet­ter Northug's come­back, lo­cal Swedish stars such as Charlotte Kalla and Jo­han Ols­son per­form­ing grandly at home and the U.s.-medal-win­ning per­for­mance by Jessie Dig­gins and Caitlin Gregg.

All eyes were turned on Nor­way last June dur­ing the off-sea­son when Nor­we­gian su­per­star Marit Bjo­er­gen an­nounced that she was preg­nant and due in De­cem­ber, promis­ing to re­turn to com­pe­ti­tion in 2017. Yet soon af­ter that, she said that if things went well, she might try to at­tend some of the Ski Tour Canada races. This fall, Bjo­er­gen was still train­ing three hours a day and was at a camp in Livi­gno, Italy.

The Nor­we­gian buzz con­tin­ued as fel­low su­per­star Pet­ter Northug was un­able to reach an agree­ment with the Fed­er­a­tion, spark­ing con­tro­versy. The dis­pute cen­tered around his pri­vate spon­sor­ship with Coop Norge SA, a re­tail co­op­er­a­tive, but also a di­rect com­peti­tor of the Nor­we­gian team's spon­sor Spar.

Hap­pily, a three-year deal sim­i­lar to last year's agree­ment was struck, with Northug an­nounc­ing his de­sire to win more gold for Nor­way and the team happy to end the dis­pute.

An­other big story brew­ing on this side of the At­lantic is Ski Tour Canada 2016, set to host the world's best — prob­a­bly 25 na­tions — at cross-coun­try's grand fi­nale in March. With no Olympic Games or World Cham­pi­onships this sea­son, it will cer­tainly be the sport's top event of the sea­son. The Tour be­gins March 1 in Que­bec at Gatineau, then trav­els to Mon­treal and Que­bec City and con­cludes with four events in Can­more, Alta., the end be­ing a Pur­suit on March 12. There was a site in­spec­tion in Au­gust, with Cross Coun­try Canada's Dave Dyer not­ing, “We took the time to an­a­lyze ev­ery­thing in or­der to pri­or­i­tize the work that re­mains to be done be­fore the start of the Tour.”

In Septem­ber, Nor­way was struck with an­other chal­lenge as Therese Jo­haug broke her right hand while train­ing in Italy. Ear­lier in the sum­mer, she broke her left hand. This was ob­vi­ously not the way Jo­haug planned to start her sea­son af­ter win­ning a stun­ning gold in the 30km CL at Falun, Swe­den last year. She is joined by Ingvild Flugstad Oest­berg and Maiken Caspersen Falla, both very fast sprint­ers. Heidi Weng is an­other strong con­tender, as is Astrid Uhren­holdt Ja­cob­sen. The Nor­we­gian pipe­line is al­ways full.

Weng and Si­men Ostensen were the over­all win­ners at Nor­way's Top­pidrettsveka roller­ski com­pe­ti­tion in July, where the U.S. team strut­ted its stuff for the first time. Mean­while, Ragn­hild Haga, 24, is a huge tal­ent and was im­pres­sive last win­ter as a two-time U23 gold medal­ist, and a shock­ing fourth over­all in the Tour de Ski and with 12 top-10 World Cup re­sults un­der her belt. It's all in the fam­ily for her, as she is the niece of An­ders Bakken, who took part in the 1980 Olympic Win­ter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. She is a great dis­tance-skate-ski­ing spe­cial­ist, but can rise to the oc­ca­sion in ev­ery dis­ci­pline.

The Nor­we­gians have been train­ing in Hemsedal, Nor­way, as well as at Italy's Seiser Alm and Livi­gno in Au­gust. With elites such as over­all World Cup over­all win­ner Mar­tin John­srud Sundby, Nor­way con­tin­ues to be the sport's dom­i­nant power with re­mark­able con­stel­la­tions of tal­ent that in­clude An­ders Gloeersen, Eirik Brands­dal, Ola Vi­gen Hat­tes­tad and Finn Ha­gen Krogh.

The Swedish team spent some fun days of train­ing and sun­ning on the Ca­nary Is­lands in May fol­lowed by of­fi­cial camps in Torsby, Swe­den and in the Idre Moun­tains. Kalla is ready to un­cork a great sea­son, and will take part in this year's Tour de Ski af­ter two years as a spec­ta­tor. With 40 skiers, the Swedes had a record num­ber of ath­letes at a camp that wrapped in early Septem­ber. Oth­ers to watch, of course, are Stina Nils­son, Calle Half­vars­son and Mar­cus Hell­ner (the gold medal­ist at Falun), plus Ols­son and Daniel Richards­son.

Fin­land made some progress with its new head coach last sea­son, and much ef­fort is be­ing fo­cused on the 2017 Nordic Worlds, which will be held in Lahti, Fin­land. Also, Aino-kaisa Saari­nen an­nounced that she was also preg­nant as we went to press, so the team will rely on the tal­ents of Kerttu Niska­nen, Mona-li­isa Mal­vale­hto and Ri­ita-li­isa Ro­po­nen. The Fin­nish women took home bronze in the re­lay at Falun last Fe­bru­ary.

Lead­ing men in­clude Matti Heikki­nen, Sami Jauho­jarvi, and Ville Nou­si­ainen, who does well in both dis­tance and sprint events. A young man on his way up is sprinter Toni Ketela – coaches see him as hav­ing abun­dant po­ten­tial.

The Ger­man team spent two weeks in Ram­sau, Aus­tria in June and later in Ober­st­dorf , Ger­many and Lille­ham­mer, Nor­way. They have suf­fered very sig­nif­i­cant re­tire­ments re­cently with skiers such as To­bias Angerer, Jens Fil­brich, Axel Te­ich­mann and Ka­trin Zeller leav­ing the sport. That said, this is a com­pletely new era for the DSV squad. Two strong vet­er­ans Clau­dia Nys­tad and Hannes Dot­zler are re­turn­ing, but look for new names and faces too.

Poland's multi-dec­o­rated Olympic and World Cham­pi­onships medal­ist Justyna Kowal­czyk took an im­pres­sive win in Ar­gentina at the 29th edi­tion of the March­blanca race in Au­gust, best­ing all skiers, male or fe­male. Kowal­czyk teamed up with Syl­wia Jaskowiec for team sprint bronze in Falun.

Czech cross-coun­try skier Eva Vrab­cova-nyvl­tova has shown great fit­ness, set­ting a Na­tional run record at the Birell Grand Prix in Prague in the 10,000 me­tres with a time of 33:07.

The Ital­ian team has been look­ing hard for emerg­ing tal­ent and has found some in 22-year-old Francesco De Fabi­ani, who won a World Cup in Lahti last win­ter. He fin­ished 13th over­all in the World Cup stand­ings. The team will be

train­ing of­ten this fall at Val Se­nales and the Stelvio Pass in Italy and Ram­sau.

France has named a new women's coach this sum­mer when Alex Rous­se­let, a for­mer Na­tional Team ath­lete, re­placed the out­go­ing Co­ra­line Hugue and Anouk Faivre-pi­con. They were all dis­ap­pointed to see top skier Celia Ay­monier leave cross-coun­try ski­ing for biathlon. On the men's side, Mau­rice Man­i­fi­cat took sil­ver in Falun – the strong skier from the Haute-savoie is truly ca­pa­ble of fight­ing it out with the best.

On the Rus­sian front, strong­man Alexan­der Legkov has hired a new per­sonal coach, for­mer Ger­man ju­nior and U23 trainer Mar­cus Cramer. He will also over­see the train­ing of Sergey Tury­shev. Rus­sian sprint­ers such as Nikita Kriukov and Alexei Pe­tukhov are also in good form. It has been noted that Legkov's goals for the sea­son are to win the FIS Dis­tance Cup and the Tour de Ski. Mean­while, Maxim Vylegzhanin, at 32, may still be the team's top dis­tance man.

The Swiss team opened up train­ing for the off-sea­son in Sar­dinia and have also con­ducted camps at the Stelvio Pass and in Ruh­pold­ing, Ger­many. Once again, their top star will be Dario Cologna, who fin­ished sec­ond over­all last year. Cologna plans to at­tend three stages at the Tour de Ski in Len­z­er­heide, Switzer­land this win­ter, where he will fight for his fourth Tour vic­tory.

As well, for the first time, Ras­nov, Ro­ma­nia will host the world's-best ju­nior skiers at the FIS Ju­nior/u23 Nordic World Cham­pi­onship held from Feb. 22-28.

All this, the 10th an­niver­sary of the Tour de Ski, along with the ex­tra­or­di­nary Ski Tour Canada in March – who could ask for more?

Biathlon

IBU Biathlon World Cup 2015/16 fever will hit North Amer­ica this win­ter at the in­au­gu­ral World Cup at the Can­more Nordic Cen­tre in Al­berta, round seven, on Feb. 4-7 fol­lowed by round eight, Feb. 11-14, in Presque Isle, Maine, last held there in 2011. Rac­ing on home soil should prove to be one of the high­lights of the sea­son for both the Cana­dian and Amer­i­can teams this win­ter.

The World Cup sea­son kicks off in late Novem­ber in Swe­den, which is fol­lowed by World Cups in Aus­tria and Slove­nia. De­fend­ing over­all cham­pion Mar­tin Four­cade (FRA) will un­doubt­edly con­tinue to be a force to be reck­oned with. How­ever, due to mononu­cle­o­sis, de­fend­ing women's cham­pion Darya Dom­racheva will not be com­pet­ing this sea­son, set­ting the stage for a new over­all cham­pion.

The new year be­gins with two World Cups in Ger­many, fol­lowed by one in Italy, af­ter which the en­tire World Cup cir­cuit trav­els to North Amer­ica to duke it out first at Can­more, where the event kicks off a month-long fes­ti­val there, fol­lowed by more ac­tion in Maine.

Sport­ing the Stars and Stripes at the World Cups be­fore Christ­mas are Na­tional Team biath­letes Su­san Dun­klee, Han­nah Dreis­si­gacker, Low­ell Bai­ley, Tim Burke and Leif Nord­gren. They will be joined by An­nelies Cook, who won both of the fi­nal roller­ski tri­als in Jeri­cho, Vt., and Sean Do­herty, who fin­ished sec­ond in both trial races. Clare Egan has been in­vited to train with the team at the Utah camp, while Rus­sell Cur­rier and Jakob Elling­son have been in­vited to the Lake Placid train­ing camp.

Hav­ing had a solid sum­mer of train­ing with the en­tire team healthy and ex­cited to race, there could be an Amer­i­can fight­ing for the podium on any given day. Achiev­ing solid re­sults at the pre­vi­ous World Cup in Presque Isle, the Amer­i­cans will be ea­ger to per­form at home. U.S. Women's Coach Jonne Kahko­nen is look­ing for­ward to the North Amer­ica races and told us, “. . . all in all, it will be an ex­cit­ing two-week block of rac­ing!”

All 12 mem­bers of the Cana­dian Na­tional A and B teams are poised and ready for ac­tion. Fresh from a sum­mer filled with ex­cel­lent train­ing both lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, the suc­cesses of last sea­son have the teams thirst­ing for more.

Sharp­shooter Nathan Smith, who achieved nu­mer­ous per­sonal bests last sea­son, leads the men's A Team. His sil­ver medal in the men's 10km sprint at the IBU World Cham­pi­onships in Kon­ti­o­lahti, Fin­land was only topped by his World Cup vic­tory in the 12.5km Pur­suit at the fi­nal race of the sea­son in Khanty-man­siysk, Rus­sia. Join­ing him on the A Team is Bren­dan Green, who posted a ca­reer-best fifth-place fin­ish in the sprint last Jan­uary at An­tholz, Italy. Con­sid­er­ing that not even two years have passed since he un­der­went two se­ri­ous back surg­eries, Green proves to be a Her­culean force to be reck­oned with.

Hot off her vic­tory at the Blink Roller­ski Biathlon Fes­ti­val in Nor­way this sum­mer, Rosanna Craw­ford is a strong leader of the Cana­dian women's team. Her per­sonal-best fin­ishes of fourth and fifth in­di­cate that the podium is within her reach. She will cer­tainly have the sup­port of her home­town crowd dur­ing the Can­more World Cup. Round­ing out the solid A Team is Me­gan Heinicke, who achieved four top-15 World Cup fin­ishes last sea­son.

Na­tional Team Head Coach Matthias Ahrens, Coach Roddy Ward and now-as­sis­tant-coach Kathy Davies have been work­ing hard so that all eight ath­letes on the B Team are also prepped and ready for ac­tion. Olympian Scott Per­ras is joined by Macx Davies and broth­ers Scott and Chris­tian Gow. The men have seen im­proved in­di­vid­ual suc­cess, and when com­bined with Smith and Green, the Gow broth­ers raced to a fifth-place fin­ish in the re­lay in Oslo last sea­son.

The women on the B Team have a strong con­tin­gent, as well as up-and­com­ing biath­letes such as Emma Lun­der, who had a per­sonal-best sec­ond place in the IBU Cup sprint last March in Can­more, along with Ju­lia Ran­som, Audrey Vail­lan­court and Sarah Beaudry, who have also been mak­ing their mark on the World Cup and IBU Cup scenes.

And don't count out three-time Olympian Zina Kocher. She has re­turned to her for­mer coach, Richard Boruta, and has had a pro­duc­tive sum­mer of train­ing with the Biathlon Al­berta Train­ing Cen­tre.

Upon leav­ing North Amer­ica, the world will be watch­ing the World Cham­pi­onships in Oslo, Nor­way at the famed Hol­menkollen from March 3-13, while World Cup ac­tion wraps up March 17-20 at Khanty-man­siysk, Rus­sia. – KM

Nordic Com­bined

In ski jump­ing, the Ger­man team has been a dom­i­nant force on the Nordic-com­bined World Cup tour for many years, and this win­ter should pro­vide more of the same. With such big names as Eric Fren­zel, Bjorn Kircheisen and Johannes Ry­dzek, it's chal­leng­ing for a new­comer to break through, but, at only 19, young Jakob Lange is about to do just that. The Bavar­ian ath­lete had medal per­for­mances at last year's World Ju­nior Cham­pi­onships, and his time seems to have ar­rived. He's look­ing for his first top-10 World Cup re­sult this sea­son, and don't be sur­prised to see his name in lights soon.

Speak­ing of Ry­dzek, he took top hon­ours this sum­mer at Ger­many's Nordic-com­bined Na­tion­als in late Au­gust at his home­town venue of Ober­st­dorf. It was his fifth Na­tional crown. The Ger­man com­bin­ers have had a great sum­mer, with an amaz­ing fin­ish on the fi­nal day of the Sum­mer Grand Prix (SGP) in Ober­st­dorf as Fabian Riessle took his first-ever in­ter­na­tional win, al­though Ry­dzek's sec­ond place was enough to give him the over­all sum­mer crown. Ja­pan's Watabe Ak­ito was third, with Aus­trian Seidl Mario from Salzburg in fourth. Amer­i­can Tay­lor Fletcher was ranked 18th over­all, with brother Bryan in 24th, while Adam Loomis ranked 43rd and Michael Ward was 46th.

Watch for a clas­sic come­back story from Nor­we­gian Jo­er­gen Graabak, the Sochi Olympic cham­pion, who has been side­lined with a painful thigh-mus­cle in­jury and missed a great deal of last sea­son and the key sum­mer pe­riod, too. De­spite a break of nearly six months' train­ing, he re­sumed prepa­ra­tions in Septem­ber. Graabak, who is back to ap­prox­i­mately 85-90% of his nor­mal train­ing, went di­rectly to Trond­heim for a team camp and told news me­dia, “I am care­fully op­ti­mistic when it comes to my level of per­for­mance this win­ter, but my main goal is the Lahti Worlds in 2017.”

The Nor­we­gians have also en­joyed a true re­birth of their com­bined pro­gram, and most of their off-sea­son train­ing has been in Nor­way. They plan on trav­el­ing to Ober­hof in Oc­to­ber to use their famed ski tun­nel and then per­haps Oslo or Beitostolen for on-snow prepa­ra­tions. Then they'll travel to Ruka, Fin­land for the start of the World Cup sea­son. “Our goal is to fight for podi­ums in ev­ery sin­gle race this win­ter,” noted Sports Di­rec­tor Sverre Rote­vatn. Mag­nus Krog per­formed beau­ti­fully to take two sum­mer wins at two Norge Cup events in Trond­heim, so he could very well be set for a strong sea­son.

The mem­bers of Squadra Italia had a six-day camp in Tarvi­sio, Plan­ica and Vil­lach, based at the bor­der-po­lice bar­racks in the vil­lage of Fri­uli. Ath­letes such as Armin Bauer, Sam Costa, and Lukas and Mat­tia Rung­galdier were on hand. Not present was star Alessan­dro Pit­tin, who works in­de­pen­dently and trains with Na­tional cross-coun­try team mem­bers.

The French com­bined boys have been train­ing hard un­der Coach Jerome La­heu­tre and spend­ing the bulk of their time train­ing at Courchevel. There they have spent much time jump­ing and work­ing on cross-coun­try skills such as moun­tain hik­ing and strength train­ing.

The Aus­trian com­bin­ers un­der Head Coach Christoph Eu­gen con­ducted an eight-day camp in Lille­ham­mer and Oslo prior to the start of the SGP. They also did some tough roller­ski­ing in Sjusjoen on a very chal­leng­ing paved loop. The Aus­tri­ans will need to find a quick re­place­ment for the amaz­ing 38-yearold Mario Stecher, who re­tired at the end of the last sea­son. Stecher was one of the all-time greats and set the bar high for all those who will fol­low. He's cur­rently on a book tour and study­ing at the Univer­sity of Wis­mar, where he is pur­su­ing a sports-man­age­ment de­gree.

In U.s.a.-com­bined cir­cles, Bryan Fletcher grabbed a re­peat ti­tle at Nordic-com­bined Na­tion­als held at Park City and Sol­dier Hol­low. Loomis fin­ished sec­ond, while Tay­lor Fletcher took the bronze medal. Bill De­mong, an Olympic and world cham­pion, re­tired last spring, and his lead­er­ship role will be missed this sea­son.

Both of the Fletcher broth­ers had some strong re­sults this sum­mer on the SGP, and their cross-coun­try-ski­ing times have been par­tic­u­larly strong against the world's best, which have also been very fast.

Other young Amer­i­cans have spent time through­out Europe this sum­mer, as well as at the SGP, with ath­letes such as Loomis, Ward, Ben Berend and Jasper Good gain­ing loads of ex­pe­ri­ence. Long­time U.S. Head Coach Dave Jar­rett com­mented that “The Sum­mer Grand Prix is mainly a way to see how our sum­mer train­ing, es­pe­cially jump­ing, has been. Both Bryan and Tay­lor have had good re­sults on the jump­ing hill, while Tay­lor has also been ex­tremely fast in many of our test races as well. I am ex­cited to see how ev­ery­one stacks up this sea­son.”

Af­ter years of strug­gling for lo­cal recog­ni­tion and spon­sor­ship, Canada's Na­tional Nordic- com­bined team has found sup­port from a far­away friend – Fin­land. “Fin­nish Know-how”, a col­lec­tion of like-minded tech­nol­ogy, prod­uct and cloth­ing com­pa­nies in Fin­land, is help­ing to sup­port Cana­dian ath­letes train to­ward suc­cess at the 2017 Nordic World Ski Cham­pi­onships to be held in Lahti, Fin­land.

The con­nec­tion comes via Jouni Kahko­nen, a Fin­nish ski-jump­ing and Nordic-com­bined coach re­cently hired and brought to Canada by Al­berta Ski Jump­ing and Nordic Com­bined (ASJNC).

“This project also in­volves a Fin­nish me­dia com­pany, Topline Me­dia,” says Andy Mah, chair of Nordic Com­bined Ski Canada. “The Finns have shown great in­ter­est in our ath­letes, now dubbed `Nordic-com­bined Team Canada,' as they train for the 2017 World Cham­pi­onships and hope­fully con­tinue to­wards the 2018 Olympic Win­ter Games in Korea and be­yond.”

Canada's Nordic-com­bined and ski-jump­ing teams are lo­cated at Canada Olympic Park (COP) in Cal­gary, the only fa­cil­ity of its kind in Canada. Other de­vel­op­ment lo­ca­tions in­clude legacy fa­cil­i­ties from the 2010 Van­cou­ver Olympic Win­ter Games lo­cated at Whistler Olympic Park. In Al­berta, ASJNC is also in the process of es­tab­lish­ing pro­grams at Can­more Nordic Cen­tre and Cam­rose in Al­berta. –

Ski Jump­ing

Anew sea­son of ski jump­ing beck­ons, and once again the Ger­man squad has been on form with strong sum­mer re­sults by Sev­erin Fre­und, 27, last sea­son's over­all World Cup cham­pion. No doubt this puts a smile on the face of Head Coach Werner Schus­ter, a na­tive Aus­trian who has been at the helm of the Ger­man Ski As­so­ci­a­tion (DSV) pro­gram since 2008.

Ger­many's Michael Neu­mayer has also been jump­ing es­pe­cially well, win­ning at a Sum­mer Grand Prix in Ja­pan. “I hope this gives me some con­fi­dence,” he com­mented.

De­spite Fre­und's mar­velous record, the Mu­nich res­i­dent wants to win the over­all Four Hills crown badly, some­thing that has eluded his im­pres­sive re­sume. In a can­did in­ter­view with the news­pa­per Badis­che Zeitung, he of­fered, “Win­ning the Four Hills Tournee would be rated [for me] about as high as an Olympic gold in an in­di­vid­ual com­pe­ti­tion. It would be very, very nice if it would hap­pen.”

For the women, Ju­liane Sey­farth won the Na­tional ti­tle at Ger­man Sum­mer Cham­pi­onships in Ober­st­dorf, while Katha­rina Althaus was sec­ond. Sochi 2014 Olympic gold medal­ist Ca­rina Vogt fin­ished fifth.

De­spite some ups and downs dur­ing the past sea­son, the Aus­trian team still has abun­dant proven tal­ent in Gre­gor Sch­lieren­za­uer, Thomas Di­ethart, An­dreas Kofler and Ste­fan Kraft, and they will also be con­tenders.

In Switzer­land, the age­less Si­mon Am­mann is largely a one-man show backed up by Gre­gor Deschwan­den.

The 22nd edi­tion of the FIS Sum­mer Grand Prix, with 13 com­pe­ti­tions at eight venues, is one of the most-watched events of the sum­mer sea­son and gave fans a taste of what's to come.

Lukas Hlava won top hon­ours at the Czech Sum­mer Na­tion­als on his home hill in Liberec, with the 30-year-old star tak­ing the Nor­mal Hill ti­tle. Ro­man Koudelka was sec­ond. Jakub Janda (CZE) scored his first podium in the Grand Prix in two years, a nice way for him to get his early-sea­son vibe on. Along with vet­eran Jan Matura, they boast a very strong team.

Kle­mens Mu­ranka (POL) is a young jumper start­ing to flex his mus­cles on the hill, as he came up with a Camp of Cham­pi­ons (COC) win this sum­mer in Fren­stat, Croa­tia. In the same event, the U.S.A.'S Mike Glas­der fin­ished 27th. And Poles Kamil Stoch and Piotr Zyla have also had a good sum­mer.

Women's flyer Ema Klinec (SLO) won the start of the women's COC in Ober­wiesen­thal, Ger­many, while the Slove­nian squad sees prom­ise in two young men: An­draz Po­grajc, who won a COC in Kuo­pio, Fin­land this past Au­gust, while Anze Lanisek has had some very long jumps. In ad­di­tion, Robert Kran­jec also had some good re­sults this sum­mer, in­clud­ing a sec­ond-place Grand Prix fin­ish in Rus­sia.

The age­less and im­mensely ta­lented Janne Aho­nen of Fin­land took a fall at the FIS Grand Prix in Hin­terzarten, Ger­many in the out-run in late sum­mer that re­sulted in some knee pain, but hap­pily he suf­fered no last­ing ef­fects. The for­mer World Cup cham­pion found noth­ing was bro­ken and no lig­a­ments were torn, only strained, and he only lost a few days of train­ing. Mean­while, Jarkko Maeaet­tae just missed his first podium re­sult in the Sum­mer Grand Prix in Ja­pan and looks poised for bet­ter things.

The Nor­we­gian squad has seen its most en­cour­ag­ing re­sults this sum­mer from 26-year-old Ken­neth Gangnes, who dis­played strong form and good fit­ness, and took a pair of Grand Prix wins in Chaikovsky, Rus­sia. And 19-year-old Joachim Oede­gaard Bjo­ereng is a name to re­mem­ber. De­spite sev­eral se­ri­ous in­juries in his ca­reer, he con­tin­ues to bounce back, pleas­ing Head Coach Alexan­der Stoeckl, who noted that Oede­gaard Bjo­ereng is jump­ing “at a very high level.” Oth­ers look­ing strong for the Nor­we­gian Ski Fed­er­a­tion are Rune Velta, An­ders Fan­nemel and Joachim Hauer. The Nor­we­gian women's team is also field­ing such strong jumpers as Line Jahr and Maren Lundby.

Ja­pan's stun­ning Sara Takanashi bested the field to take the win at the women's Grand Prix opener in Courchevel, France in Au­gust. “Of course, the win­ter is more im­por­tant than the sum­mer,” she com­mented. “But I'm very happy with

this vic­tory.” Ja­pan, as al­ways, will field a strong men's and women's team. Takanashi also en­joyed su­perb form, tak­ing two Grand Prix events in Rus­sia in Septem­ber, and she re­mains un­de­feated on the Sum­mer Grand Prix cir­cuit.

In late Au­gust, Kento Sakuyama took his first win in the FIS Sum­mer Grand Prix, with Taku Takeuchi plac­ing sec­ond in Hakuba, Ja­pan.

One event all fans will be watch­ing closely this sea­son be­gin­ning Jan. 14 is the 2016 FIS World Ski Fly­ing Cham­pi­onships in Kulm, Aus­tria for a fifth time. You might re­call the mas­sive slide was re­built in 2014 and be­came an HS 225 me­tre, and the cur­rent record is 237.5 me­tres, set by the dar­ing and stylish Fre­und. Kulm is not only memorable be­cause of its dif­fi­culty, but also for be­ing a rock­ing party zone, as more than 50,000 peo­ple at­tend each day.

In early Au­gust, the USSA held its sum­mer Na­tion­als again at the Park City, Utah com­plex, and it was a great show for win­ners Will Rhoads and Nina Lussi. The 20-year-old Rhoads took his first gold at the Na­tional Cham­pi­onships. Ta­lented Kevin Bick­ner was sec­ond, while Chris­tian Friberg took third. Canada's ter­rific Macken­zie Boyd-clowes, who is just start­ing a come­back fol­low­ing a year off, placed sec­ond over­all, but was not el­i­gi­ble to take home any USSA medals.

In fact, three cheers for North Amer­i­cans such as Canada's Dusty Korek and the U.S.A.'S Bick­ner for scor­ing Grand Prix points this sum­mer for the first time, in 29th and 30th re­spec­tively.

Lake Placid's Lussi took the top hon­ours for the women, fol­lowed by a strong per­for­mance by Ver­mont's Tara Ger­aghty-moats, while Abby Hughes fin­ished third. Lussi also took a solid ninth place at a Sum­mer Grand Prix event in Rus­sia, with Nita Englund in 16th. In late Au­gust, it was an­nounced by USSA that Sarah Hen­drick­son, the 2013 women's world ski-jump­ing cham­pion, would be out for the com­ing sea­son due to fur­ther surgery on her right knee. Her story is a pow­er­ful one, and she com­mented, “I'm not giv­ing up on my dreams that I set years ago – this is just an­other speed bump in the road, but my story isn't over.” Hen­drick­son is ex­pected to re­turn for the 2016-17 sea­son. – PG

(fac­ing page top) Last year's over­all World Cup over­all win­ner Mar­tin John­srud Sundby (NOR) (fac­ing page be­low) His­toric podium in Falun: (l-r) Jessie Dig­gins (USA), Charlotte Kalla (SWE), Caitlin Gregg (USA) in women's 10km FR (above) Canada's Alex Har

Canada's Rosanna Craw­ford is aim­ing to have an­other break­out year. Cana­dian sharp­shooter Nathan Smith, who achieved a sil­ver at Worlds and his first World Cup win last sea­son, leads the men's A Team.

The U.S.A.'S Low­ell Bai­ley is ea­ger to land on the podium again. Amer­i­can Su­san Dun­klee is also knock­ing on the podium door again and could do it at home this sea­son.

(top) Johannes Ry­dzek took his fifth ti­tle at Ger­many's Nordic-com­bined Na­tion­als along with the Sum­mer Grand Prix over­all crown. (above) Amer­i­can vet­eran Bryan Fletcher is mo­ti­vated to con­tend for the podium at ev­ery race start.

(far left) Ris­ing Cana­dian star Macken­zie Boyd-clowes is back. (left) Nina Lussi took top hon­ours for the women at the US Ski Jump­ing Cham­pi­onships.

(top) Amer­i­can Will Rhoads won his first gold at the U.S. Ski Jump­ing Na­tion­als. (mid­dle l-r) Ger­man ski-jump­ing stud Sev­erin Fre­und, Ja­panese star Sara Takanashi, Amer­i­cans Mike Glas­der and Nita Englund.

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