Almost every corner you turn in Innsbruck affords spectacular views of Bergisel Ski Jump: Towering high above Innsbruck on the wooded Bergisel Hill, the exceptional sculpture-like design is a sight to behold day and night, an omnipresent reminder of Olympic vocation.
Obstructing the view to the south and hiding the ascent to Brenner Pass, the ski jump is oriented towards the north. An imaginary line seems to connect Bergisel to Holmenkollen, the hallowed ground of ski jumping in Norway. As if Bergisel was strategically placed as a southern bastion to the Nordic tradition of ski sports. Rising above Innsbruck like a celestial staircase, the contemporary glass-and-steel ski jump greets and enthrals visitors coming to Innsbruck from around the globe. Since 1953, the Olympic Bergisel Ski Jump has been playing host to the third competition of the prestigious Four Hills Tournament.
Now in its 65th year, the Four Hills Tournament, originally called the “German-Austrian Ski Jumpers’ Tournament”, is held each year at four sites in Germany (Oberstdorf and Garmisch-Partenkirchen) and Austria (Innsbruck and Bischofshofen) over the end of December and the first week of January. To capture the “Four Hills” title is a triumph savoured by ski jumpers every bit as much as a Nordic World Championship, Olympic gold and the overall World Cup title.
Although it is great to win a single event, competitors really only want one thing: to take out the overall Four Hills trophy (known as “The Golden Eagle”) by getting the most points across all four events. At the end of the tournament, the competitor with the best overall score from the four events is declared the winner in Bischofshofen. It is a tough task to win this coveted title because it requires concentration to jump perfectly at all four locations. After all, luck always plays a bit of a role in who wins the Four Hills tournament. Ski jumping is a sport of millimeters, of perfect timing, of luck – not to mention the wind factor. A change in the direction and speed of the wind can make it impossible for the best jumpers to produce a good result. One of the tournament’s peculiarities: Four times in the 64-year history of the Four Hills, ski jumpers who won three of the four events did not take out the overall title at Bischofshofen in the end. Twice, they struggled in Innsbruck: In 1970-1971, Bergisel was the ‘mountain of fate’ for Norway’s Ingolf Mork and in 1975-1976 for Austria’s Toni Innauer.
Rising 746 meters above Tirol’s capital Innsbruck, the wooded hill has always winnowed the winners from the losers. Not necessarily because the Bergisel Ski Jump is much more difficult than the other three jumps—each of them has its own distinct features and problems. More apparently, it is the fact that Bergisel is the third event on the tour. There might be quite a huge number of athletes who manage to book excellent results in two competitions on consecutive days; however, competing for his chance at glory in three contests in a row is a different story. Many throw away their chance of winning here and usually only a few promising contenders remain in the fight for overall victory on Epiphany Day in Bischofshofen.
For Germans and Austrians, the Four Hills ski jumping tournament is a Yuletide tradition like no other. While it is all very well watching the tour on TV, nothing beats the atmosphere of being amongst the crowd on competition day. Thus, it is no surprise really that thousands of enthusiastic spectators come to cheer on their favourites at Bergisel Stadium each year in January. Obviously, the fan base of the “German-Austrian Ski Jumpers’ Tournament” is predominantly Austrian and German – with their roars and cheers filling the air with electricity and spurring on their athletes to soar to victory.
As the Four Hills tournament takes place half in Germany and half in Austria, the event has been known to highlight a sporting rivalry between the two neighbours. Yet going into the winners list from the last 64 years, the Bergisel event produces international winners. With 14 wins out of 63 competitions, (the Innsbruck event was cancelled due to bad weather in 2008, and replaced with an additional competition at Bischofshofen), the Finns are the most successful nation in Innsbruck. Matti Nykänen, Ari-Pekka Nikkola, Janne Ahonen and co. reached one more win than the Austrian “eagles,” as ski jumpers are commonly called. Austria has dominated the Bergisel event between 2009 and 2013, when they achieved five out of their 13 victories. Norway and Germany are third in the Nation’s Cup, with eleven wins each.
Finland’s Matt Nykänen, Japan’s Kazuyoshi Funaki and Austria’s Andreas Goldberger have all won three Bergisel events. The name Andreas has been victorious on Bergisel since 1809, when Andreas Hofer led the Tirolean rebellion against the revolutionary Napoleonic invasion in this very place. In the famous Third Battle of the Bergisel, the Tiroleans fought off the invaders. Another Tirolean named Andreas (Wildhölzl) was the first Tirolean ever to win on home turf in the year 2000. Doing so, he lifted the Tiroleans’ nearly 50-year curse. Since then, two more ski jumpers from Tirol achieved glory here: Gregor Schlierenzauer, who even won twice, and Andreas Kofler – well, yes, Andreas again. Austria seems to have monopolised the Bergisel event in recent times, with five wins in a row. Another standout is Japan: Three Japanese ski jumpers, Kasaya, Kasai and Funaki have reached five wins here.
It is hard to predict the chance that a Tirolean will be crowned king of the hill in Innsbruck again, at the third stage of the ski jumping tournament on January 04, 2017. After all, there’s that wind factor, which turns many ski jumps into a bit of a lucky dip. However, this year, ski jumpers from Germany, Norway and Slovenia are considered to be among the favourites at the prestigious Four Hills Tournament. On the other hand, who knows, maybe there will be a veteran win. Japan’s 44-year old Noriaki Kasai, who finished third on Bergisel back in 1993 and won the event in 1999, still turns in fine jumps. That would definitely be a victory for the record books—and truly befit for the Bergisel and the Four Hills Tournament!