Ski Jumping

Preview: Japan's Kobayashi favourite to clinch ski jumping classic

Ryoyu Kobayashi goes into this year's Four Hills Tournament in top shape.

The Four Hills Tournament begins tomorrow as the traditional New Year's ski jumping competition takes place once more.

It has taken place every year since 1953. This year, it kicks off in Oberstdorf, Germany on 29 December and moves on to the 1936 Winter Olympic host town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen on New Year's Day before traveling to Austria for the event in Innsbruck on 4 January and Bischofshofen on 6 January.

But who are the names to watch out for?

Kobayashi the favourite

Overall World Cup leader Ryoyu Kobayashi has been in tremendous form the recent weeks.

He has won the past three World Cup events and can become the only second Japanese to clinch the Four Hills Tournament — and the first since Kazuyoshi Funaki in 1997/98 season.

After finishing 22nd at the Four Hills Tournament and 24th overall in the World Cup last season, the 22-year-old has started to prove his talent. He secured his maiden World Cup win in Ruka, Finland, in Novermber, and he hasn't finished off the podium this season.

This will be the third time for him competing in the Four Hills. He has previously finished 46th and 22nd, with a 12th place in Oberstdorf in 2017 as his best individual result in this tournament.

Ryoyu Kobayashi at PyeongChang 2018.

Grand Slam again?

Reigning Olympic large hill champ Kamil Stoch became the only second man in history — after Sven Hannawald in 2001/02 — to achieve a Four Hills Grand Slam when he won all four stages of last year's tournament.

That was his second consecutive overall win, and he is hoping to become only the second ski jumper to claim the title three times in a row. The only other athlete to do so is Norway's Bjørn Wirkola, who claimed the fabled tournament in 1966/67, 1967/68 and 1968/69.

Stoch, a three-time Olympic gold medallist, enters the event third in the overall World Cup standings, but full of confidence after clinching the large hill title at the Polish nationals this week.

Did you know that Kamil Stoch is a big Liverpool fan? The English football club's current firstst place position in the Premier League might motivate the 31-year-old Pole to get back on the top of the table.

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Norwegian interest

Norway, the reigning Olympic team champions, have different ski jumpers from that gold-winning squad who could all make an impact at all four events.

Currently the country have two men in the top 10 of the overall World Cup standings: normal hill Olympic silver medallist Johann Andre Forfang (5th), and Robert Johansson (8th) — aka The Flying Moustache.

The Four Hills title hasn't gone to a Norwegian since the 2006/07 season when 'The Flying Plumber' Anders Jacobsen was crowned Four Hills champion after only five World Cup appearances before the tournament.

Johansson, who took two individual bronze medals at PyeongChang 2018 in addition to team gold, told the Olympic Channel last week that he feels this season has been his best start to a season ever. He might be one to keep an eye on the coming days.

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Germany seek first title in 17 years

Germany hasn't claimed the title since Sven Hannawald became the first Grand Slam winner in 2002, but they are going into the event in good shape.

They are the only nation who currently have three men in the top 10 of the World Cup standings. But of the three — Karl Geiger, Stephan Leyhe, and Andreas Wellinger — only Wellinger has been on the podium at any of the four events coming up.

The 2018 normal hill Olympic champ and large hill silver medallist placed third in Innsbruck and Bischofshofen, and second overall in the Four Hills last season.

Geiger recently claimed the first individual World Cup win of his career when he won at Engelberg this December, and will have the advantage of being on home ground for the first competition in Oberstdorf.

Leyhe, meanwhile, has still yet to win a World Cup event. His best result came at the first event of the season when he finished second in Wisla, Poland.

All three men were part of the German team that finished second in the team event at PyeongChang 2018 behind Norway.

The organisers expect a total of more than 100,000 spectators at the 67th edition of the tournament.

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