New kid Diethart set to shine at Four Hills ski jumping tournament
Austria's Thomas Diethart competes during the qualification for the Four Hills Tournament, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany, on December 31, 2013
Thomas Diethart, 21, taking part in only his sixth World Cup outing, caused a sensation on New Year's Day as he shot to the top of the Four Hills standings, beating Olympic champions Thomas Morgenstern of Austria and Simon Ammann of Switzerland.
A virtual unknown until two weeks ago, he now looks the favourite to win the tournament, which after two legs in Germany moves on to Austria, first to Innsbruck on Saturday, then Bischofshofen on Monday.
But the youngster faces stiff competition from 2011 Four Hills winner Morgenstern and four-time Olympic champion Ammann, who is still seeking his first trophy at the event.
Reigning Four Hills champion Gregor Schlierenzauer meanwhile looks unlikely to complete a tournament hat-trick with disappointing performances in the first two races.
Diethart had only two World Cup starts under his belt, back in 2011, before he travelled to the Swiss resort of Engelberg on December 21. But he immediately placed fourth and has not finished out of the top 10 since.
In the first Four Hills leg in Oberstdorf on Sunday, the fresh-faced ski jumper with the mop of blond hair and distinctive earrings took his first World Cup podium, finishing third -- and scoring the best result among the strong Austrian contingent.
He then left his colleagues shaking their heads in bewilderment with jumps of 141 and 140.5 metres in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on Wednesday, having already dominated the training and qualifying rounds.
"I'm really starting to wonder where he gets those extra metres," said his Austrian colleague Wolfgang Loitzl.
But Diethart has kept his cool.
"Everything's just working perfectly at the moment... and it's great fun," he said.
"If I can stay loose, I'm sure there's still room for more," added the 21-year-old, who described standing on his first podium between Ammann and idol Morgenstern as a "childhood dream".
If he maintains his present form, Diethart can extend the Austrians' five-year winning streak at the 62nd Four Hills edition.
Record World Cup winner Schlierenzauer, currently seventh in the standings, almost 50 points behind his younger colleague, has admitted lacking the little extra to win his third straight tournament.
But Morgenstern, whose season almost seemed at an end after a horrific crash in Titisee-Neustadt in December, has made a strong comeback to secure second place in the standings halfway through the competition.
The strongest challenge to the Austrians will come from a newly-strong Ammann, 32, who started with a win in Oberstdorf and is hot on Morgenstern's heels.
Japan's Noriaki Kasai, 41, competing in his 23rd Four Hills tournament without ever having won it, will meanwhile be hoping his time has finally come to lift the trophy. He is currently fourth.
The Austrian legs of the tournament begin with a qualifying round Friday at Innsbruck's historic Bergisel venue -- site of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics.
However, strong winds have been forecast for Saturday, which could force a cancellation of the third race.
Bischofshofen will follow with a qualifying round on Sunday and the final jumps on Monday.
Unlike other World Cup events, the Four Hills competitions include a knock-out round where the best 50 face off in duels. The top 30 then take part in the final jump.