FILE UNDER -- Nordic

Dominant nordic combined star Manninen seeks individual gold at Torino

Dominant nordic combined star Manninen seeks individual gold at Torino{mosimage}HELSINKI, Finland – Hannu Manninen set a nordic combined World Cup record with 11 wins this season in his last start before the Winter Olympics.

The Finn also clinched his third straight World Cup title with six events left.

But is Manninen an Olympic champ to be?

”I have the upper hand over the others, and my position going to the Games is the best possible,” said Manninen, who does not own a single individual medal on the Olympic or World Championship level.

Last year in Germany, Manninen was a favorite to win a world title after winning six straight World Cup starts, but he finished a disappointing ninth in the regular event — two jumps plus a 15-kilometer cross-country ski race — and only eighth in the sprint event — one jump and a 7.5 km race.

Since then, he’s found love and marriage, and has been building his own house outside his hometown of Rovaniemi near the Arctic Circle.

A more relaxed Manninen is also a better athlete.

”When I met my wife, I found a new angle looking at competitive sport,” Manninen said. ”Everything is not only about the sport, practice sessions and to compete. I hope to raise a big family, and to give my children as good a childhood as I had myself.”

The 27-year-old Finn has been even more dominant than last season, when he finished with 10 wins and a 396-point cushion ahead of runner-up Ronny Ackermann. Now Manninen leads by 659 points.

With his six closest followers absent, he won two starts in the Czech Republic, but had showed his winning ways in three events before, and did it in two starts after the easy victories.

Nordic combined greats such as double world champion Ackermann and Felix Gottwald, both former World Cup winners, are outclassed.

”My self confidence is at a good level for the Games. Even an ordinary performance is enough for me to finish very high,” Manninen said.

The Olympic spirit is not a strange thing for Manninen — Torino will be his fourth Olympics. He competed in Lillehammer in 1994 before his 16th birthday.

He also has a gold medal from the team event in Salt Lake City.

Manninen is famous for his strength in skiing. Several times he has made phenomenal pursuits on the track to win, or make the podium, after mediocre jumping.

The Finn is too heavily built to make a top jumper, but he has made progress after endless practice hours on the hill. This season, he has won events starting even 17th and 18th, sometimes more than two minutes behind the leader.

If Manninen finishes in the top 10 in the jump, he most likely wins.

”The current two-week break is convenient as January has been quite a hectic period with eight events,” said Manninen, who won seven of them in a row.

”But I have still worked hard, and it shows in my skiing,” he added. ”Now I can reach the right state of mind with enough rest and good practice sessions.”

What do you think?


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