The 2015-16 Ski Jumping World Cup season is one team and one individual competition away from completion but the great champion of the season is already known. With a record-breaking season, Peter Prevc of Slovenia has already completed the sweep of the season’s major titles.
Heartbreaking End To 2014-15 Season
Peter Prevc came into the 2015-16 season as the runner-up of the previous World Cup season. The 2014-15 season had ended in the most dramatic way on the Planica flying hill in Prevc’s home country Slovenia. Leading the final competition after the first round, Prevc would have needed retain the lead on the second round to win the title as the overall World Cup leader Severin Freund would finish the competition in seventh place. However, Prevc couldn’t match the great second jump of his countryman Jurij Tepeš but finished second. That meant a tie in the lead of the World Cup standings with Freund winning the title in victory countback.
The runner-up position had become familiar for Prevc during the previous seasons. In the spring 2013, he had achieved his first individual World Championship medals, first bronze in normal hill and then silver in large hill. A year later, he repeated the same feat at the Olympics but in a reverse order, silver in normal hill and bronze in large hill. Later in the spring 2014 he became the bronze medalist at the Ski Flying World Championships and he finished as the runner-up to the double Olympic champion Kamil Stoch in the overall World Cup.
In the 2014-15 season, Prevc made the Four Hills Tournament podium for the first time, finishing third. He achieved no medals at the World Championships but had a tight race for the overall title against Severin Freund and Stefan Kraft. With a win and a second place in the season-ending individual competitions on the Planica flying hill, he was able to overtake Freund for his second consecutive ski flying World Cup title as well as close the 94-point gap to Freund in the overall World Cup, only to miss the grand prize in front of his home crowd in a victory countback.
In the 2015-16 season, the trend of runner-up positions for Prevc was about to change.
First Major Title At Four Hills
Prevc entered the first major event of the season, the Four Hills Tournament in Germany and Austria, as the World Cup leader after winning the three previous competitions. After the first round of the first of the Four Hills in Oberstdorf, Prevc was leading and it looked like he would win his fourth consecutive competition. But he didn’t. The wind conditions worsened for the last jumpers, and Prevc couldn’t beat the first round’s fifth Severin Freund and sixth Michael Hayböck but finished in third place.
The unfortunate wind conditions on Oberstdorf’s second round were the first and last setback of Prevc’s Four Hills campaign. On New Year’s Day, Prevc dominated the competition of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, scoring the highest points on both rounds, and claiming the Four Hills Tournament lead from Freund who finished third.
The same domination continued in Innsbruck which had usually been the worst of the Four Hills for Prevc. Once again Prevc won by scoring the highest points on both rounds. His arch rival Freund had suffered a crash on the trial round, yet it didn’t seem to bother him too much as he finished in second place.
Before the last of the Four Hills in Bischofshofen, Prevc had a lead of almost 20 points to Freund in the tournament standings. On the first round of Bischofshofen, Prevc once again scored the highest points and extended the lead to Freund by six points. On the second round, Prevc again scored the highest points to achieve his third competition victory at the tournament and win the tournament title by 26.5 points to Freund.
One might wonder if the unfortunate wind conditions in Oberstdorf denied Prevc the Grand Slam of winning on all of the Four Hills, a feat achieved only by Sven Hannawald in the 2001-02 edition. Scoring the highest points all seven other rounds might imply that, yet there is the wind compensation system that should even out the effects of wind. However, the Four Hills title started a different kind of a Grand Slam for the Slovenian.
First Gold Medal At Ski Flying Worlds
Just over a week after the Four Hills Tournament, it was time for the 2015-16 season’s only World Championship event, the Ski Flying World Championships on the Kulm flying hill in Austria. Prevc led the competition after the first round where he set the new hill record, 243 meters. However, the difficulty in landing such a long flight cost him in style marks and Kenneth Gangnes overtook him by 1.3 points with a better second flight, despite the shorter total distance of his two flights.
On the second competition day, Prevc improved the hill record to 244 meters to claim back the lead from Gangnes. That ended up being the final round as the fourth round had to be canceled due to weather conditions. Peter Prevc won his first international championship gold medal and became the fourth man to win the Four Hills and Ski Flying World titles in the same year, the previous being Sven Hannawald in 2002.
Record-Breaking Run Into World Cup Titles
Prevc continued his consistently great performances on the World Cup tour after the Ski Flying Worlds. In the end of February, he achieved his 12th and 13th season victories in Almaty, equaling Gregor Schlierenzauer’s record of most season victories from the 2008-09 season. The second victory of the weekend also secured Prevc the overall World Cup title, six competitions before the end of the season. Prevc became the first Ski Flying World Champion to win the overall World Cup in the same season, with the Four Hills title to add to that.
After fifth and second places from the following two weekends’ competitions, Prevc won the first of the three individual competitions on the Planica flying hill. With that result, Prevc broke Schlierenzauer’s previous record of 2083 season points and equaled his record of 20 season podiums, as well as set the record of season victories at 14. On the following day, he improved the record of season podiums to 21 as he finished second to his countryman Robert Kranjec. That second place also secured him the ski flying World Cup title before the final individual ski flying competition, completing the clean sweep of the four titles of the 2015-16 season.
Where Does Prevc’s Season Rank In History?
Peter Prevc broke the World Cup records set by Gregor Schlierenzauer in the 2008-09 season when he won the overall and ski flying World Cups. Prevc’s season also included the Four Hills title that Schlierenzauer missed that season. Statistically this must have been the greatest World Cup season ever.
Prevc’s clean sweep of the Four Hills, the Ski Flying World Championship, the Overall World Cup, and the Ski Flying World Cup titles is an unprecedented feat. Even by excluding the Ski Flying World Cup which is the newest of those titles, Prevc was the first to achieve the three other titles in the same season. However, comparing seasons is difficult as the Ski Flying World Championships take place in the even-numbered years and this was the only season of the Olympiad with no major championships in large and normal hills.
If we include World or Olympic gold medals in any hill category, Prevc became the eighth man to achieve the Four Hills, World Cup, and gold medal triple in a season. The most impressive of those triples must be by Matti Nykänen in 1987-88, when he won individual Olympic gold medals in normal and large hills (plus gold in team competition), yet was the bronze medalist at the Ski Flying Worlds.
It is impossible to say what Prevc would have achieved had this been an Olympic season like 1987-88 was. His record from large hills, including the Four Hills title, shows he was undeniably the best jumper in that hill category. However normal hills caused trouble for Prevc this season, with his results being second, ninth, and 11th places in them. In that sense, Nykänen’s feat of two gold and one bronze medals in the same season might have been difficult for Prevc to repeat. Then again, Prevc had the most impressive World Cup campaign ever, making it hard to choose the better season of those two.
The Ski Jumping World Cup season concludes in the Planica flying hill with a team competition on Saturday, March 19, and the final individual competition on Sunday, March 20.