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179 days to go – Ski Jumping!

August 16, 2009

Yes, my visit to the Whistler Olympic Park and my tour of the ski jumping facilities definitely peaked my interest in what most of us would deem a ‘totally crazy’ sport.  So today is research day.  And as I learned yesterday, there are a lot of things about ski jumping that I never knew!

First, ski jumping has been a part of the Winter Olympics from the first Winter Games in Chamonix in 1924.  But the sport has changed a lot from its origins.  The first known ski jump occurred in 1809 and was done by a Norwegian, Olaf Rye, in front of some fellow soldiers.  The sport slowly developed, with higher slopes, longer distances and competitions.  In fact, Vancouver hosted a competition in 1958 at the old Empire Stadium, where Playland is today.  Check out these photos.

Empire Stadium ski jump - 165 feet high!

Empire Stadium ski jump - 165 feet high!

Norwegian Viggo Friling jumping at Empire Stadium

Norwegian Viggo Friling jumping at Empire Stadium

The body position of the jumper in the photo above was used until 1985.  The position was meant to make the athlete slice through the air.  In 1985, Swedish jumper Jan Boklöv introduced the V-style that is used today (see photo below).  Initially Jan was penalized for his unusual form but it was determined that his V-style resulted in 28% more lift!

V-style ski jumping.  Photo from vancouver2010.com

V-style ski jumping. Photo from vancouver2010.com

The skiers start on a long ramp called a ‘in-run’.  To get onto this ramp, they put their skis on and then shuffle to a starting bar that they sit on.  The shuffle out to the centre of this bar and put their skis into position in the groomed grooves, that are 110 mm wide, the same width as their skis.  At the take off point is a stand for the athlete’s coaches.  The coaches can see the starting light but apparently the jumpers cannot.  When the light goes green the jumper has only ten seconds to stand up and let go of the starting bar.  The coach will wave their nation’s flag at the jumper to signal when to start their jump!  Crazy!

As I mentioned yesterday, the take off is at -11 degrees of slope at Whistler (every ski jump is different) and is meant to give the jumpers the right angle to be able to achieve a certain distance.  The large hill at Whistler is the 125, where jumpers are meant to jump at least 125 metres.  The normal hill is a 95 (I could be wrong on this, but I think it’s close).  For Whistler’s large hill, skiers will be travelling between 90 – 110 km per hour when they begin their jump.  The hill record currently stands at 149 metres and is not expected to be broken any time soon.  Why is that?  Well, ski jumping is a very odd sport that has variables not present in other sports.

The temperature, speed and slope of the jump, and the wind direction and speed all play important roles in ski jumping.  Because the athletes are launched into the air, if their distance isn’t controlled they could jump too far and land on flat ground, which would be disastrous for landing and likely result in a lengthy hospital stay.  If the jumps are fast then the distance of the in-run is shortened.  If there is a change in wind direction the competition will be delayed.  Wind plays such an important role though, that if the competition has started and the wind shifts, then the whole round may have to restart.

Who decides where the start gate is set or if the competition needs to be restarted?  There is a jury of former ski jumpers that work together to create a challenging yet safe set of variables for each event.  The jury members are very familiar with all the workings of ski jumping and want to ensure that everyone gets a fair go.  They do this by examining the skills of the strongest and the weakest jumpers and set the jumps so that hopefully even the weakest jumper will meet the minimum distance for the jump (remember, for Whistler’s large hill it’s 125m).

Then there are the judges.  It’s not just about which jumper jumps furthest, it is also about form, in the air and on landing.  There are five judges.  They are in a judging tower beside the landing area.  Each of them is in a separate, sound proof booth, where all they can do is observe the jump and note their score.  Doesn’t sound like much fun but due to the worry about wind direction changing the competition goes quickly.  As soon as one skier has landed safely the next is signalled to jump.  So my guess is that the judges don’t have to stay in their boxes too long.

Some other interesting things I learned about ski jumping yesterday at the Whistler Olympic Park… 1) Whistler’s ski jumps are built into the terrain, unlike most ski jumps in the world where they are built on cement columns with elevators to bring the athletes to the starting gate.  The jumps were built on the hillside so that the trees would provide some wind break, which is a great idea, however there is a ski lift, not an elevator, to the jumps.  Some of the ski jumpers apparently had to be taught how to ride the lift with their boots on (ski’s go up separately by snowcat).  2) V-style jumping can be compared to flying squirrels.  Instead of trying to cut through the air as ski jumpers used to do, the jumpers now try to create lift with their skis and bodies.  Suits must be tight (and are pinch-tested to ensure this) to prevent ‘wings’ from forming.  The skis are very long, usually between 230 – 250 cm, 110 mm wide, and very light as they do not have to withstand the same sorts of strains as downhill skis.  And 3) There are now weight regulations for the sport.  As lighter things fly better some of the athletes had started losing too much weight (described as a celery and cigarettes diet by my guide!).  Minimum weights for height are now set and equipment is also chosen based on height and weight.

There is so much to learn about this sport! Oh, just thought of 4) The athletes are generally not more than 2 – 3 metres off of the ground, no matter what the television cameras make it look like.  I hope that I have a chance to see some of the ski jumping during the Olympics (last round of tickets go on sale in November), but if not then I will still certainly make an effort to go to another ski jumping event at Whistler Olympic Park, to finish fleshing out the education.  Do you have ski jumping tickets or hope to get some?  Let me know by commenting!

Thank you and merci!

Empire Stadium photos from http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?p=3698489

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Dan Robillard permalink
    February 18, 2010 5:46 pm

    Great article. As a former ski jumper myself I normally get a chuckle reading reviews of this fine sport, you got it pretty close. One thing I will add is that according to FIS Ski Jumping is the second Most safe of all the snow/ski sports. Only Xcountry skiing is deemed safer. The most dangerous is Snow Boarding.. remember that next time you send your kid off.

    PS That Pic of the Empire Stadium jump is awesome. Looks like around a K60. The Norge club in Chicago built a similar temp hill around the same time at Soldier Field. Those where the days!

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