Eight years of suffering have passed since the last triumph of an Austrian ski jumper at the Four Hills Tournament. Those are eternities for the proud Austria-Adler, who won the Ski Jumping Grand Slam seven times in a row between 2009 and 2015. This time the train left before the last competition on Friday in Bischofshofen: Stefan Kraft in sixth place is already more than 80 points behind high-flyer Halvor Egner Granerud.
In all likelihood, Austria will still celebrate a victory on this tour. After all, the top two in the overall standings will be looked after by trainers from the Alpine country before the final jumping. Granerud in Norway by Alexander Stöckl and Poland’s Dawid Kubacki by Thomas Thurnbichler, who was second on the podium. With Stefan Horngacher, an Austrian coach is also behind the successes of the German ski jumpers in recent years – even if there were many disappointments on the tour. The 33-year-old Thurnbichler is undoubtedly the “hottest coach share” in the ski jumping circus at the moment.
“We negotiated with him, but he didn’t want to come to us,” revealed German head coach Horngacher. Probably also because Thurnbichler would have been second in Germany: Just like in his home country of Austria, where he had already promised with a handshake that he would continue his work as Andreas Widholzl’s assistant coach for this season. In Poland, however, ski jumping boss Adam Małysz had the courage to offer the young Thurnbichler the post of head coach. After an agreement with the former Austria successful coach Alexander Pointner failed.
Since Thurnbichler was unexpectedly appointed head coach in Poland, he has been turning the world upside down in a nation where ski jumping enjoys a similar reputation to soccer with unusual training methods. For example, top flyers had to solve math problems during training jumps – one after leaving the take-off bar, the other during the flight. “The result was shouted out loud before landing,” reports Kubacki.
Other ideas from Thurnbichler caused real panic. “Especially at the beginning when we were supposed to try different positions in the air. I thought I was going to kill myself doing it,” says Kubacki. Especially the established stars like the Four Hills Tournament winner Kubacki (32) and Kamil Stoch (35) – he is two years older than coach Thurnbichler – were skeptical at first. But the enthusiasm of the young athletes in the team carried them away and the successes of the season speak for themselves.
The new training methods didn’t kill either Kubacki or his colleagues – instead, as the overall World Cup leader, he is the most successful pilot of the season so far and was able to win the third competition of the tour in Innsbruck. “All of the training methods served to break old movement patterns and increase mobility – both physically and mentally,” explains Thurnbichler. Kubacki explains that he not only made a significant step forward in flight, but above all mentally. Also thanks to Thurnbichler’s German assistant coach Marc Nölke, who has made a name for himself as a neuroathletic expert.
»Last season things went up in Poland, there was a breakdown in the team. Ski jumping is a national sport in Poland, and no other country attracts so much attention to the sport. Those were factors that made me think twice before putting myself in a shark tank,” Thurnbichler said in an interview with “Laola1”: “But my basic personality is a person who takes risks and that’s it out of his comfort zone.«
That was already the case when he was a ski jumper, when he celebrated the first double jump in ski jumping history as a leader at the 2003 Four Hills Tournament in Bischofshofen: Thomas Thurnbichler landed early at about 80 meters, but jumped off the steep slope again and flew to the jubilation the viewer another 40 meters away. The German ski jumpers could probably use such crazy ideas. After all, her suffering at the Four Hills Tournament lasted much longer than that in the other host country Austria: Sven Hannawald’s last overall victory was 21 years ago.