By Peter Q. Graves
The numbers in the elite ranks of nordic combined are growing for the Olympic season. First, USA star Todd Lodwick, then Austrian Felix Gottwald, former U.S. Olympian Carl Van Loan and now the news from Finland indicates Hannu Manninen is contemplating a return to the sport as well according to what European websites and Finnish newspapers are reporting today (Sept. 23).
Manninen, among the most decorated athletes of nordic combined retired from the sport on May 29, 2008, largely – he said — to focus on his family and a career as an airline pilot.
The Finnish icon burst onto the Olympic scene at the 1994 Olympic Games in Norway, at the tender age of 15. He won a silver medal in Nagano, a gold in Salt Lake City in 2002 and a bronze at Torino in 2006, as well as a host of world championship medals. He is also recognized as a fine cross-country skier having finished eighth in the individual sprint at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. His sister Pirjo, competes on the World Wup tour and is a star in her own right, having won two World Championships in 2007.
What is known for certain is that recently the tall combiner from Rovaniemi, has registered in at the FIS Anti Doping Testing Pool. WADA rules now allow for an athlete, once registered, to have his first competition in four months from registry, not the previously required six month delay.
During that four month timetable, three doping tests must be negative. Therefore, the 31-year-old Manninen might be able to test the World Cup waters as early as December.