The Slovenia Times

Quiet Planica atmosphere not dampening mood of competitors


Planica - The isolation zone in place at Slovenia's Planica ski jumping centre for the Ski Flying World Championships is functioning well, according to organizers and the athletes. While Planica traditionally welcomes large crowds, the absence of fans has not dampened the mood among the competitors.

A lot of snow has fallen in the Planica Nordic Centre in recent days and the atmosphere is almost idyllic despite the fact that spectators cannot be on hand due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

In the Planica "bubble" ski jumpers are in the focus of attention, which is why there are no major changes when it comes to the competitive part.

But in the pandemic year 2020, much attention is also being paid to protecting the competitors from infection. In the recent months and weeks, the organisers have undertaken a host of measures for the event to be held under strict medical protocols.

While Slovenian hotels have been shut down since October, three hotels in the Alpine resort of Kranjska Gora have opened to accommodate the competitors and staff.

Ahead of the qualifiers on Thursday, the hotels had around 400 booked guests, most of them part of the organising team, ski jumpers and national team staff, and the rest journalists, TV teams and photographers.

The "bubble" is more or less relaxed, as guests are not quarantined in hotels, but those playing with their masks too much or standing too close may be met with raised eyebrows.

The new rules have become a constant and responsibility is on the individual, as no one wants to be the one to be blamed for an infection and possible suspension of the Ski Flying World Championships.

Jumpers had to adapt to "silence", as there are no fans waiting for them under the hill with horns and other accessories. Instead fans can pose in front of their webcams at home, and their faces are projected onto the large screens set up around the arena as virtual stands.

The main sponsor has encouraged fans to cheer virtually also by donating 120 tickets for the World Cup finale next March, when the valley under the Ponce hills will again host the best ski jumpers in the world for the World Cup finale.

While fans watch the ski jumps from the warmth and comfort of their homes, it is much colder at the venue, even colder than in March, when spectators in the arena are usually treated to sun.

One the other hand, the idyllic snow snetting is something that competitors at Planica were not able to see in the previous few years, and the new thing is also that floodlights have lightened up the Gorišek Brothers hill for the late afternoon jumps.

The "bubble" is nothing new for the Slovenian national team, and the most difficult thing for them is actually being away from their families for long stretches of time, but this is something they have gotten used to as professional athletes.

"A day in Planica is just like every other day. There is not much difference when it comes to preparations for competitions. We can also go shopping," Slovenian team member Bor Pavlovčič has told the STA.

The bubble, face masks, hand sanitisers - all this has become a constant. "We wear masks on our faces all the time. We are not required to wear them only in our rooms, in the locker room and while jumping."

As for distancing, there are no major changes compared to the pre-coronavirus times, only that it is less crowded during travelling.

There is less socialising, however, but members of individual national teams hang out together, killing time by playing video games, for instance, says Anže Lanišek, the best Slovenian ski jumper in the current World Cup season.

He has accustomed well to the "bubble" as the life of a ski jumper is travelling from hotel to hotel. "But it is not easy, as you don't see your closest. But we are professionals and ... sometimes you need to sacrifice certain things."

Domen Prevc, who has only recently returned to competition, is not bothered so much by the isolation zone and is focused on other things. "The biggest difference on the hill is spectators, as there is not so much buzz around."

From the other aspects, including analyses of jumps, massages, therapy, media obligations, exercise, warm-ups, rest and recovery - there is no much difference, adds the youngest of the Prevc ski jumping brothers.

Timi Zajc has noticed a major difference. "Perhaps it is a bit easier because we are in Slovenia, almost home," he said, while the rest is almost the same, as the jumpers do not leave the hotel much.

"Perhaps it is a little more tense, because this is a ski flying hill and you need some more time to get rested," Zajc added.

Making sure that the jumpers are properly prepared and protected from the external world is the task of Slovenian head coach Gorazd Bertoncelj, who does not need to play too strict a role. "We have a lot of work related to Covid-19 protocols anyway ... so we are certainly not bored."

Unlike his proteges, he thinks that the Planica "bubble" is somewhat stricter than those in other countries. He has no problem with this, though, welcoming all measures to reduce the possibility of infection.


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