Ones to watch at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Seefeld
The 52nd edition of the event takes place in Seefeld, Austria, from 19 February to 3 March.
All eyes on 'Golden Boy' Klaebo
With Norwegian legends Marit Bjoergen and Petter Northug now retired, the expectations of the most successful nation in the Nordic World Ski Champs (342 medals) lie on the shoulders of Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo.
The 22-year-old is looking for his first world gold medal after clinching bronze in the individual sprint event in Lahti, Finland, two years ago.
In the meantime Norway's 'Golden Boy' has turned into a 'winning machine' claiming an overall World Cup title (2017/2018) and three Olympic golds (two individual) at PyeongChang 2018.
Klaebo is leading the cross-country overall world cup rankings this season and became the youngest skier to win the overall Tour de Ski earlier this year. It was his first appearance.
In Austria, the Norwegian cross-country prodigy will probably renew his rivalry with Federico Pellegrino, who sits second in the sprint standings.
The Italian had to settle for silver in PyeongChang in the 10km (classic) event, but he's the defending sprint (freestyle) champion and won the last World Cup race in the home event of Cogne.
Another man to watch will be two-time world champion (and six-time world medallist from Lahti 2017) Sergey Ustiugov: the 26-year-old Russian has been on the podium five times this season, including second place in the Tour de Ski, an event he won in 2017.
Ustiugov's teammate Alexander Bolshunov from Russia follows Klaebo in the overall standing and will be one of the medal contenders along with Norway's Didrik Toenseth, Simen Hegstadt and Martin Johnsrud Sundby.
Oestberg and Johaug the women to beat
Norway also fields a strong women's side, including World Cup overall leader (and Tour de Ski winner) Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, Sochi 2014 sprint champion and two-time PyeongChang 2018 medallist Maiken Caspersen Falla as well as seven-time World champion Therese Johaug.
The 30-year-old, who successfully resumed her career after a ban for doping in 2016, was unbeaten across all distances in the eight events she competed in this season.
"This (championship) has been my goal and my dream since I received the ban - Johaug said to Dagbladet -I feel like I'm going quietly into this competition, with the feeling that I've done what I should have done. I am confident in the form and confident in myself".
Sweden's Charlotte Kalla will take part in her sixth world championships and despite not having won a race in 2019, the 31-year-old triple Olympic champion is confident she will be in contention for a medal, after preparing with teammate Ebba Andersson.
Fellow Swede Stina Nilsson has dominated the sprint season but suffered a thigh injury on 19 January in Otepaa, Estonia, and probably won't be at her best for the competition.
Other athletes to watch out for will be Natalia Nepryaeva from Russia and USA's PyeongChang gold medallist Jessica Diggins, who returned to winning ways in Italy just in time for the World Champs.
Who can stop Kobayashi?
Ryoyu Kobayashi enters the men's competitions as one of the big favourites.
This winter the 22-year-old has collected 11 World Cup wins and 16 podiums to comfortably lead the overall standings.
At the beginning of 2019 he became the first Japanese jumper in two decades to win the Four Hills tournament after completing the grand slam at the prestigious ski jumping competition (only the third man to do that after Sven Hannawald in 2001/2002 and Kamil Stoch in 2017/2018) .
"I'm among the favourites for the World Championships, maybe I feel a little bit of pressure, but I just want to continue my best jumps", Kobayashi said after his victory in Willingen, Germany.
Another top contender in Seefeld will be triple Olympic champion Kamil Stoch, who recently proved to be in top form in Oberstdorf, Germany, clinching his 33rd World Cup win and leading fellow Poles Dawid Kubacki, Jakub Wolny and Piotr Zyla to a team win in Willingen, Germany.
Austria's double world champion Stefan Kraft, three times on the top of the podium this season, is not to be underestimated.
On the women's side, all eyes are on World Cup leader Maren Lundby of Norway.
The PyeongChang 2018 normal hill gold medallist has secured nine World Cup wins this season, but is still looking for her first individual world medal. In Falun, Sweden, four years ago, she won silver in the mixed team event.
The 24-year-old will likely face competition from Katharina Althaus of Germany and Japan's Sara Takanashi, who recently ended Lundby's winning streak claiming her first World Cup victory of the season in Ljubno, Slovenia.
The women's team event was added for the first time at world championships.
In Seefeld the discipline, which consists of a Cross-Country skiing competition (10km) followed by Ski Jumping (normal or large hill), includes only events for men (two individual and two team events).
In order to win his first senior world medal, the 21-year-old will need to beat some of the most experienced German guys, like Johannes Rydzek, Eric Frenzel and Fabian Riessle, who dominated at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti and at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
The competition schedule (medal events)
|Date||Event||2017 World champion|
|21 February||Cross-Country Sprint (skating) Ladies||Maiken Caspersen Falla (NOR)|
|Cross-Country Sprint (skating) Men||Federico Pellegrino (ITA)|
|23 February||Cross-Country Skiathlon Ladies 15km||Marit Bjoergen (NOR)|
|Cross Country Skiathlon 30Km Men||Sergey Ustiugov (RUS)|
|Ski jumping HS130 (large hill) Men||Stefan Kraft (AUT)|
|24 February||Cross-Country Team Sprint (classic) Ladies||Norway|
|Cross Country Team Sprint (classic) Men||Russia|
|Nordic Combined Team Sprint 2 x 7.5km (HS 130 - large hill)||Germany|
|Ski Jumping Team Men (HS 130 - large hill)||Poland|
|26 February||Cross-Country 10km (classic) Ladies||Marit Bjoergen (NOR)|
|Ski Jumping Team Ladies (HS 109 normal hill)|
|27 February||Cross-Country 15km (classic) Men||Iivo Niskanen (FIN)|
|Ski Jumping HS109 (normal hill) Ladies||Carina Vogt (GER)|
|28 February||Cross-Country 4 x 5km Relay Ladies||Norway|
|Nordic Combined 10 km / HS109 (normal hill)||Johannes Rydzek (GER)|
|1 March||Cross-Country 4 x 10km Relay Men||Norway|
|Ski Jumping HS109 (normal hill) Men||Stefan Kraft (AUT)|
|2 March||Cross-Country 30km freestyle mass start (skating) Ladies||Marit Bjoergen|
|Nordic Combined Team 4 x 5km / HS109 (normal hill)||Germany|
|Ski jumping Team mixed HS109 (normal hill)||Germany|
|3 March||Cross-Country 50km freestyle mass start (skating) Men||Alex Harvey (CAN)|