Granerud eyeing more history in ski jumping's fabled Four Hills

·3 min read
Halvor Egner Granerud has won five consecutive ski jumping World Cup events this season - and heads to the Four Hills as a red-hot favourite
Halvor Egner Granerud has won five consecutive ski jumping World Cup events this season - and heads to the Four Hills as a red-hot favourite

By James Toney

Life and sport is all about being in the right place at the right time - fractions can be the difference between champ and chump and in ski jumping, life and death.

Halvor Egner Granerud knows the importance of timing all too well, as the latest superstar off the ever-rolling production line of Norwegian winter sport.

Last year he was working shifts in a children's nursery in Trondheim, this season he has claimed five straight ski jumping World Cup victories and guided Norway to a third consecutive ski flying team world title.

In a sport of gravity defying high-flyers, the unassuming 24-year-old suddenly finds himself in rather rarified air, with just over a year to the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

He arrives at his sport’s fabled Four Hills tournament with his reputation burnished.

Granerud’s five in a row moved him ahead of Norwegian ski jumping legends Espen Bredesen, the 1994 Olympic champion, and Ole Bremseth, a former world gold medallist, who only ever managed four.

And now more history beckons, as he seeks to become the first Norwegian to win the Four Hills title since Anders Jacobsen 14 years ago.

In the days ahead competitions will take place in Oberstdorf, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Innsbruck, with the concluding event at Bischofshofen on Epiphany.

But it could be said Granerud's moment of a sudden and great revelation has already been achieved, whatever unfolds.

Usually 40,000 frigid and fervent fans are in attendance, the silent backdrop to this year's competition just a reminder of another Christmas tradition on hiatus.

Since the Four Hills began in 1953 only three jumpers have completed the ‘Grand Slam’. Sven Hannawald was the first in 2002 while Poland’s Kamil Stock completed the sweep in 2018, followed by Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi 12 months later.

"Last year I was competing on the Continental Cup and that didn't really pay the bills, I only made two World Cups and finished 31st and 23rd. This year ... well it's certainly been different," says Granerud.

"I've been living off savings for too long but everything has turned upside down this year.

"I've worked really hard on the mental side of my jumping. I just feel like I've got much more control than ever before.

"I visualise big jumps and I've learned to make fun of the thoughts so they give me more focus.

"People look at this season and think I must have done something magical - it's more been a case of rebuilding everything and lots of hard work."

Back home they are already talking of his Olympic credentials, Norwegians won the first seven 'big hill' competitions staged at the Games but haven't seen one of their jumpers take gold in the showpiece since Toralf Engan in 1964. And that really is 58 years of hurt.

Granerud certainly isn't looking that far ahead, ticking off targets one giant leap at a time being his somewhat predictable mantra.

Six in a row at Oberstdorf would put him in another club, alongside the likes of Kobayashi, Thomas Morgenstern and Janne Ahonen, Hall of Famers in a sport famously described as 'falling with style'.

"It would be cool to be part of that company, I certainly don't lack for any extra motivation," he added.

Ski jumping is something of a religion in Norway, though Granerud still has some way to go to be mentioned in the same reverential tones as compatriot Ole Einar Bjorndalen, the eight time Olympic champion in biathlon.

Indeed he's not even the most famous person in his family, his late great grandfather Torbjorn Egner wrote the children's classic 'Hakkebakkeskogen'.

"In my family it will take at least a couple of Olympic golds to even get mentioned in the same sentence," he jokes.

More success in the days ahead and that will surely start to change.