Before the Thaw

Review of the Week: 4 – 12 January 2016

Konkurs drużynowy mężczyzn na skoczni K-120 - Peter Prevc

Despite an unprecedentedly warm December across Europe, in which winter sport has been severely disrupted, some big events were able to take place in the Alps last week.

Four Hills Ski Jumping

Peter Prevc of Slovenia (above) was simply far too hot for the rest of the field to handle, and reduced them to puddles in the snow. He finished a tepid third in the opening round in Oberstdorf but was on fire for the remaining three. He stomped further muddy prints on his opponents with victory in Willingen, to make it four World Cup events in a row.

Prevc now becomes the favourite to win gold in Pyeongchang in 2018. If he does, he will blaze a trail for Slovenia as the first Olympic ski jumping champion from his tiny nation.

Olympic Volleyball Qualification

The qualifying rules are liable to melt the brain, like Alpine snow. There were six spots up for grabs this week, as well as places in another qualification round in Tokyo in May.

Poland’s men missed qualification last year, dramatically dropping from first to third in the World Cup, after a final game defeat. This time, they were whitewashed by France to be denied automatic qualification again, and then, in a thrilling five set match, squeezed past Germany to claim a place at the bar, and a Japanese beer, at the last chance saloon.

Russia’s men and women both booked tickets to Rio, and women’s teams from the US and Argentina will also join their country’s men on the flight. Cuba and Egypt qualified their men’s teams. Canada’s men and Peru’s women, Olympic silver medallists in 1988, are among those who must head for the Rising Sun in the hope of reaching the Rio sun.

JOHNSRUD SUNDBY Martin Tour de Ski 2010

Tour de Ski

The Alps also hosted cross country skiing but the Alpine nations were left far behind by the skiers from Norway. Martin Johnsrud Sundby (above) won a third title in a row and, despite a difficult fifth stage in which he finished 23rd, he led all the way from stage two.

The women’s race was a close contest between Ingvild Flugstad Ostberg and Therese Johaug. Ostberg overhauled Johaug to lead before the final stage, but struggled on the climb as Johaug clinched victory. Heidi Weng’s first World Cup win after 37 podiums took her to third overall. But national pride was not at stake – all three are Norwegian.

Tennis and Speed Skating

The Hopman Cup has been played in Perth since it began in 1989 but Australia has had  a mixed record in the mixed tournament. It made some amends when Nick Kyrgios and Daria Gavrilova defeated Ukraine to claim only its second title, and its first since 1999.

Sven Kramer of the Netherlands won a  record eighth European allround speed skating championship. Bart Swings, a Belgian who started in inline skating, came second. And there was Dutch disappointment with a a fifth title for Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic, ahead of her great rival, and four-times champion of the event, Ireen Wuest.

It was a feast of winter sport but there are ominous signs that, if global temperatures continue their rise, the feast could soon become a famine. Enjoy it while you still can.

Next week: Downhill skiing in Wengen and the track cycling World Cup in Hong Kong

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