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The Barcelona of Winter Sports

Although the British winter has failed to supply any snow, the mountains of Europe and beyond have been blanketed and the ski jumping season is well underway. Without a single British athlete taking part in either of the two international competitions, there is little media attention on the elite winter sport. However, the avid viewer of Eurosport will know that one nation dominates the sport of Eddie the Eagle in the same way that Barcelona dominates the football world.

The Austrian ski jumping squad mixes both youth and experience, whilst also being steeped in history. The very first ever round of the ski jumping world cup was one by Austrian Toni Innauer and his compatriot Hubert Neuper was crowned world cup winner at the end of the 1979/80. With another 5 world cup winners before the turn of the millennium, the Austrians were a clear international force.

Today’s squad echoes the success of the past with 3 Austrians winning the last 4 world cups. The Guardiola of the Austrian success is one Alexander Pointner, himself a former Austrian ski jumper and the current head coach of his country’s team. His blend of youth and experience has created a squad oozing with pure talent, as well as a promising ‘academy’ of youngsters.

Wolfgang Loitzl has four individual gold medals in his career. The thirty two year old is currently on a poor run of form, but has a history of success and ability to execute a perfect point scoring landing. Loitzl remains a solid member of the squad despite his age and pressure from youngsters.

Andy Köfler is a man who has remained brilliant for the team. The Four Hills Champion of 2009, he could be set to win his first World Cup championship after leading throughout the 2011-12 season and well into January. At a mere 27 years of age, Köfler has plenty of years of excellence in him, remaining an irreplaceable part of Pointner’s plans with ever-impressing performances.

Thomas “Morgi” Morgenstern is one of the most successful members of the team. At only 25 years of age, Morgi is a two time World Cup winner and finished this season’s Four Hills competition in second place, having lifted the title in the past. The Austrian has made the most World Cup podium appearances of all current competing athletes and with such a long career ahead of him, he is expected to lift the World Cup many more times.

Gregor Schlierenzauer is the undoubted present and future megastar of the sport combining sheer talent with his dedication and work for the sport. The 22 year old already boasts the most individual wins of any ski jumper in competition today, as well as being the youngest winner on the World Cup tour. Already a winner of the Four Hills championship, the youngster has also won the World Cup championship and a multiple ski flying world champion. Glittering celebrity status meets him in his own country, without it transcending to the British public.

Despite the presence of these four individuals, there are many more members to Pointner’s squad with Martin Koch just one of the men who can score highly. Pointner clearly has an eye for young talent, with the likes of Stefan Hayboeck and Mario Innauer, son of the first ever World Cup round victor, encouraged to take part on Austrian soil. The head coach also knows how to spot talent outside of his team, grasping at the opportunity to convert David Zauner from a Nordic combined skier to a ski jumping specialist.

Although the Austrian athletes have had so much individual success, they still earn medals in the team competition with the nation as dominant as its individuals. The mixture of youth and experience in the squad ensures both a prosperous present and a successful future. Sadly, most will probably never hear of Austria’s World Cup result at the end of the 2012 season; meanwhile how many will watch this season’s Champions League Final?

Andrew Cotterill

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