There, where it all began for him as a little boy on the children's hills, Karl Geiger was finally able to really celebrate again after a mixed season: In the second round of the tournament opener in Oberstdorf he landed after 134 meters, clenched his fist and set it into the leader box. Four more jumpers followed, surprisingly among them Andreas Wellinger. But the 2018 Olympic champion didn't celebrate much - he didn't jump from fourth to third place and thus his first podium finish in four years.
In the end, Geiger had to be content with fourth place on the Schattenbergschanze in his hometown and Wellinger with sixth place, but what the two showed on this Thursday evening was not necessarily to be expected: As outsiders and challengers instead of favorites in the tour, they jumped now with the best and made an important contribution to the ski jumping party of 25,000 fans. However, the Norwegian Halvor Egner Granerud jumped in a league of his own. "It's crazy what he's doing," said Geiger, impressed. Poland's Piotr Zyla and Dawid Kubacki came in second and third. And Wellinger quickly saw the day of the competition for what it was: not a missed opportunity, but a big step forward: "I ski jumped really well again, I'm really happy overall," he said.
The situation at the start of the tour was different for the Germans than in previous years - significantly worse: because while at least one jumper in the team was always one of the favorites or even the top favorite, sometimes two, the season has been largely disappointing so far. Geiger, who wore the yellow jersey last year, got the only podium result for the Germans this winter with a third place. As seventh in the overall World Cup, he is the only one in the top ten, but the group of the best has jumped on a different level so far. It's been 12 years since the starting position of the Germans, measured by the overall World Cup, was worse.
History has shown often enough that a lot can happen in ski jumping in general and at the Four Hills Tournament in particular. And the Germans know how to do it. In addition to Geiger, this applies above all to Olympic champion Wellinger, who is still fighting back after many injuries. On the other hand: The distance to the top is large. National coach Stefan Horngacher was still confident before the start and even thought Geiger's overall victory to be possible. "He has to improve, but thank God it can go very quickly in ski jumping," said the 53-year-old Austrian. “If you have endurance problems, it takes months. But that's the good thing about us: You can get into a completely different waterway within one or two jumps, then you're right at the front," he said. “That is our aim, to get the athletes there. It doesn't have to be in Oberstdorf, it can develop over the course of the tour."
But Oberstdorf was already doing better than many expected: After two years with empty stadiums due to the pandemic, Wellinger let the German fans cheer in the sold-out arena in the first round. 135 meters meant a top competition jump that he hadn't managed for a long time.
And it continued to be exciting in this first round - because the next knockout duel was Stefan Kraft against Karl Geiger. The world champion and two-time tour winner from Austria against the world champion from Germany. While Kraft was one of the favorites for the overall victory on the tour, Geiger was at most one of the extended circle of favourites. The fact that this duel came about was not due to Geiger, who finished seventh in qualifying. But in strength, who traveled to Oberstdorf and only finished 44th. Geiger saw the duel as a motivation: "That can be an incentive. Stefan always jumps damn well in Oberstdorf. But I still have reserves.” The loser has to be among the top five losers to get through to the second round.
Kraft had to be the first of the two and covered a good 133 meters. But Geiger countered in his hometown with 136.5 meters and won.
From a German point of view, the intermediate result reads well: Wellinger before Geiger before Kraft. The top favorites still came, and so it was at the end of the first round: Granerud ahead of Poland's Zyla and Kubacki - but then Wellinger and Geiger followed. A half-time state that could hardly have gone better from a German point of view. Geiger and Wellinger were at the forefront.
The only 22-year-old Philipp Raimund, Constantin Schmid and Stephan Leyhe jumped into the second round. Markus Eisenbichler and Pius Paschke, however, missed him. "It's extremely bitter," said Eisenbichler, who is desperately looking for his form. He also indicated that he might get out of the Four Hills Tournament in order to continue working in peace.
He first followed his teammates' hunt for the podium place as a spectator - and before that he saw the young Philipp Raimund cheering exuberantly after his second jump: 14th place and thus the third best German.