When Tim Hug said in a TUESDAY TALK at the beginning of the season that he believes he has what it takes to be among the top athletes of his discipline, he probably would not have believed how close some tangible proof of that belief would be. With an incredibly strong performance on the weekend in Chaikovskiy he secured a fourth place and an incredible first Swiss World Cup win since Hippolyt Kempf in 1994, sending the media in Nordic Combined "developing country" Switzerland into overdrive and also making him into our Athlete of the Week.
"Since I crossed the finish line, my phone has been ringing, so I actually did not have time to think about anything else since then", a slightly overwhelmed Hug said in his winner's press conference after his big win and definitely, Hug's jump from a career-best ninth rank to this win in an admittedly weakened starting field has been unexpected and is the more impressive, given the conditions on location.
With the long exhausting travel to Russia's Ural region and the blistering cold on the race day, Hug certainly proved out of which stern stuff he is made. "I love that weather, I love when it's cold! I also loved the hill from the first jump on and I really like the cross-country course. It was just my day. I will remember Chaikovksiy for a long time!"
With the difficult situation in the Swiss team where the resident of Gerlafingen has to train as a lone fighter due to his young teammates only starting in Alpen and Continental Cup added to the particular difficulties in Chaikovskiy, Hug's achievement proves to be even more important, also as a signal of hope in his own country and as a confidence boost right ahead the Olympic Games in Sochi for which Hug had secured his ticket with a 13th rank in Schonach the weekend before Christmas.
And also for Hug personally who had to go through hard times in his personal life as well as in regards to financing the sport and keeping up the belief in these darker times, this win meant payback on a lot of levels which was easy to see for onlookers while watching the 26-year-old on the podium during the flower ceremony and the Prize Giving Ceremony on Chaikovskiy's city square: a visibly moved athlete who had trouble to take it all in into the moment of triumph.
It remains to be seen how the Swiss success story goes on when all of the World Cup top athletes return for the competitions in Chaux-Neuve on the upcoming weekend but one thing is clear: Tim Hug has entered the Nordic Combined World Cup winners list for good. Possibly not for the last time!