The FIS Nordic Combined World Cup 2008/2009 will start in late November, at the traditional FIS Nordic Opening in Kuusamo/Ruka (FIN) on 29th-30th November. After the three competitions that made up this year's FIS Grand Prix Nordic Combined held from 24th July to 1st August 2008, right before the Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, the athletes are currently enjoying a longer than normal training period before the season truly gets underway.
As reported previously, the competition format in Nordic Combined will change for the World Cup season 2008/2009. The 2008 FIS Grand Prix provided an opportune chance to test the suggested new format consisting of only one jump and a 10 km race. The changes being tested received positive feedback from several athletes and teams.
"From my point of view, this step was necessary and very important for our discipline," said Ronny Heer, winner of the FIS Grand Prix competition in Einsiedeln (SUI) and a long-time member of the Swiss Nordic Combined team. "As long as I have been involved, there has been more of a downward trend in our discipline, especially in financial terms: We have had problems to find sponsors and organizers, which also impacts our chances for prize money. We needed this revolution to keep our sport on the radar screen. I'm convinced that with good marketing the discipline of Nordic Combined will thrive in the future."
Heer added: "Despite the changes, the best combined athlete - the best and fittest jumper-skier - will also win in the future; the new competition format will just be more compact. In the end, ski jumping will stay ski jumping and cross-country will stay cross-country, no matter if we race 10 km or 7.5/15 km."
Christoph Bieler, a member of the Austrian national team and a team Olympic champion in Nordic Combined, comments on the discipline's "re-launch": "It's time to change something in our discipline. I see potential especially in the marketing arena. I personally feel good with these changes."
But what, if anything, will change for the athletes and teams during their training?
"As regards the methods of training we do not plan to make any significant changes despite the rule changes. Rather, we will stay with the proven concepts and structures," noted Head Coach of the German national team, Hermann Weinbuch, "Whether we compete in one or two jumps makes no difference in the training. And there are no necessary major changes required to be fit for a 10km Cross-Country race."
"The only thing is probably that we will have to be more focused on concentration and the ability to deliver our best performance exactly in that one jump and during the 10 km race", agreed Ronny Heer.
There appears to be wide-spread support for the changes despite some nations possibly feeling disadvantaged. "The planned changes are massive, but I think that this represents a great chance for us to make Nordic Combined popular beyond Germany, one of its current core markets. That's why we are willing to make one or another compromise, even if the planned reduction of national starting places hurts us a bit," explained Hermann Weinbuch.
The final decision on the changes to the competition format will be taken by the FIS Council in its next meeting in November. The proposals prepared by the experts in the FIS Nordic Combined Committee are now for review with the National Ski Associations, with their comments due back by 15th September. They will again be discussed during the FIS Autumn Meetings in early October.