Planica ready for Nordic elite, Slovenian hopes rest on ski jumpers
Planica, 20 February - Planica, a glacial valley in north-west Slovenia best known for its gigantic ski flying hill, is ready for the Nordic World Ski Championships. It will host over 2,000 of the world's best ski jumpers, cross country skiers and Nordic combined specialists from 60-plus countries between 21 February and 5 March.
The biggest sports event in the country's history will take place in an Alpine valley that has acquired almost mythical status in Slovenia and beyond. It features one of the most spectacular ski flying hills in the world and as of 2015 a state-of-the art Nordic skiing complex that includes seven more ski jumping hills and 40 kilometres of cross-country skiing tracks.
While the venue has seen seven Ski Flying World Championships so far, this is the first time that it is hosting the entire Nordic elite, a feat supported by a budget of EUR 16 million and an organising team involving around 1,300 people.
Over 2,000 media representatives are expected and they will take the events in Planica to over 450 million fans around the world, the head of the Slovenian Ski Association Enzo Smrekar has announced.
Planica has long been a source of national pride and a massive crowd magnet, with the Ski Jumping World Cup finales usually taking place there often attracting over 100,000 spectators over the course of three days. Smrekar has said that 150,000 to 200,000 visitors are expected in total during the upcoming two weeks of competition.
Such figures present a vast logistical and environmental challenge and while the organisers have been promoting responsible practices and moving the parking areas away from the venue, environmentalist have not been happy with some of the solutions used in this protected area that is part of the Triglav national park. This also applies for this year when organisers explicitly committed to green policies.
Public transport is being organised and encouraged as part of the efforts, with visitors also needing to brave the final 1.5 kilometres to the Nordic Centre on foot. It is as yet unclear whether this will also apply for the heads of state and government and crowned heads that are expected at the championships as well.
The key reasons for the large crowds in Planica have included the site's special status among Slovenians, the ski flying hill that owned the world record for a quarter of a century, and the consistently successful Slovenian ski jumpers.
The jumpers will also carry the bulk of the load of Slovenian expectations in the coming weeks, having been responsible for all the 22 podium finishes recorded by Slovenian athletes in the World Cup this season as far as the competitions featured are concerned.
The Slovenian team includes 33 athletes in total, 11 of which are ski jumpers, with almost all of them capable of grabbing a medal judging by the results this year. Commanding most of the spotlight will be Anže Lanišek in the men's jumping team and Ema Klinec among the women jumpers - both currently sit in third place in the overall World Cup rankings - while a lot is also expected from the team events.
The honour of carrying the Slovenian flag at the opening ceremony has fallen to former World Champion and overall Ski Jumping World Cup winner Peter Prevc, who is a veteran in the young Slovenian team despite only being 30.
"I'm certainly honoured to have been selected ... They obviously noticed my persistency and decided to finally put this flag into my hands," Prevc commented jokingly, while admitting the honour had caught him somewhat surprised.
Klinec will be defending the title earned at the World Championships in Oberstdorf and is "super happy with the level of results" in the period leading up to Planica. "My goal is of course clear - a medal," the 24-year-old said.
The rejuvenated cross country skiing team, having lost some of its top performers to retirement in recent years and its main star Anamarija Lampič to biathlon, has more modest expectations.
The main name to watch out for in the 14-strong team is 27-year-old Eva Urevc, who made significant progress in long distance events this season while still lagging behind in sprint. Urevc was part of the Slovenian sprint team that won bronze in Oberstdorf in 2021.
In Nordic combined, the only Slovenian that came close to keeping up with the best this year has been Ema Volavšek and team coach Goran Janus has called for patience with the young team that numbers eight athletes.
Meanwhile, the prices of ordinary daily tickets for visitors of the Planica spectacle will start at around 30 euros. Special discounts will be made available for family packages, while VIP tickets will be sold for about 300 euros and more.