Rydzek ready to shine in PyeongChang
The 2016/17 Nordic combined season belonged to Johannes Rydzek, who won both of the pre-Olympic test events for PyeongChang 2018 before completing an unprecedented grand slam of all four events at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. The young German has every chance of being one of the stars of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games if he maintains his outstanding form.
Natural talent“If you are born in Oberstdorf, you would probably get your winter sport gene automatically,” says Johannes Rydzek on his official website. Famed for its ski jumping facilities, his Bavarian home town is a venue for the annual Four Hills Tournament and two-time former host of the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.
“I used to go cross-country skiing with my parents,” said the German, recalling his childhood years. “My father was a volunteer at the Four Hills Tournament, which was also the reason why I’ve always wanted to jump.” Attracted to both disciplines, the young Rydzek inevitably found himself drawn to Nordic combined.
Early starterThings happened fast for Rydzek, who took part in his first FIS competitions at the age of 14, made his World Cup debut two years later and won an Olympic medal aged only 18. After being crowned world junior champion in Hinterzarten (GER) in January 2010, Rydzek had his first taste of Olympic success soon after, winning bronze in the team large hill/4x5km event at the Vancouver Games with Tino Edelmann, Eric Frenzel and Björn Kircheisen behind winners Austria and runners-up USA.
Summer successAfter winning his first Summer Grand Prix title in 2010, Rydzek continued his rapid ascent at the 2011 World Championships in Oslo (NOR), where he collected three silver medals Individual success came in the large hill/10km, where he finished just six seconds behind French legend Jason Lamy-Chappuis, along with team silvers in both the normal hill and large hill competitions.
His maiden World Cup victory came in the large hill/10km in Lahti in March 2011, a year in which he also secured a second Summer Grand Prix crown. Two more followed in 2014 and 2015, as well as third place finishes in 2012 and 2013.
On the upRydzek traded his Olympic large hill/4x5km bronze for a silver at Sochi 2014, with the German quartet of Frenzel, Kircheisen and Fabian Riessle just missing out on gold in a sprint finish with Norway.
The 2014/15 season saw the German’s success continue, picking up medals in all four Nordic combined events at the World Championships in Falun (SWE), including two golds. Victory came in the individual normal hill/10km, where he finished ahead of Alessando Pittin and Lamy-Chappuis and in the team normal hill/4x5km alongside Edelmann, Frenzel and Riessle. In addition he won bronze in the large hill/10km and silver in the team sprint with Frenzel.
Test event doubleAfter a quiet 2015/16 season, Rydzek made a spectacular return to form the following year, registering eight World Cup victories, including two at the pre-Olympic test event in PyeongChang. “It’s good to be here,” he said, after his double in the Republic of Korea. “I did really well on the hill and in the cross-country and I’m delighted.”
Clean sweepRydzek’s good form continued with a stunning display of dominance at the 2017 World Championships in Lahti, where he became the first ever athlete to win every event. He began his clean sweep by successfully defending his individual normal hill/10km title, overcoming a 14.9-second deficit on team-mate and reigning Olympic champion Frenzel to coast to the line, German flag in hand.
Two days later he retained his second title, anchoring the German quartet of Frenzel, Kircheisen and Riessle to a 41.7 second victory over Norway in the team normal hill/4x5km. In the individual large hill/10km, Rydzek left himself with a hefty challenge going into the cross-country, of with over a minute’s gap to make up on Austria’s Mario Seidl.
“I didn’t have a great jump and even I was doubting my chances in the cross-country,” said the German star after the race. “I managed to make up ground on the leaders, though, and I just tried to sit in and make sure the chasing group didn’t close up. I waited until the last lap to attack because I knew the finishing straight was long.”
Rydzek’s tactics worked to perfection. After breaking clear in the final kilometre, he won by 4.8 seconds over Japan’s Akito Watabe with François Braud of France taking bronze.
Partnering Frenzel in the final competition of the championships, the team sprint, Rydzek caught and overtook Norway’s Magnus Krog on the final corner and sprinted to the line to win an unprecedented fourth gold.
“It’s totally crazy,” he said afterwards. “It’s going to take a few days for this to sink in.” With PyeongChang 2018 fast approaching, Rydzek is brimming with confidence.