Winter Sports -Ski Jumping
I have quite a few favorites in the winter sports category. Ski jumping may just be my number one pick, since I have enjoyed watching it since the mid 70's when Tony Innauer was the household name in the sport. Watching him was thrilling and to this day, I look forward to watching the latest and greatest of the sport.
Currently, Austria’s, Gregor Schlierenzaur has captured my attention as well as my imagination.
At just 20 years of age, this young man has managed to rise to the top of his sport mastering the skill and athleticism needed to glide through the air and down a mountain floating to the bottom and setting amazing records in the process.
They Fly Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease . . .
Ski jumping looks like a lot of fun, but in actuality the jumping process betrays its appearance. The jumpers, travel down an inrun which is a track usually made of snow and ice, that winds down and then catapults the jumpers up and out into the sky, where they then attempt to sail as far down the hill as possible. The winner is the one who jumps the farthest down the mountain.
There can easily be 50 starting competitors from all over the world in the first round. That number is then cut down to the top 30 jumpers who compete in the second round for the gold, silver and bronze medals.
The competitions can consist of 3 separate events, which means the spectators can see their favorite jumpers up to 6 times in a 3-day competition. And the competitors can collect 3 medals as well, one being a team medal, of course.
What Jumping at 60 mph Feels Like
This is where appearances are most deceiving. Watching from the safety and warmth of my home, I romantically envision soaring like a bird, riding a current and floating safely to the ground feeling exhilarated and relaxed after having floated through the ski on a soft current of air.
In truth, the jump is quite different. First, it’s COLD! Very cold, they are in the mountains, after all. The athletes must ride or in many cases, climb the stairs to the top of the jump and then wait their turn in relative comfort, if you call a glorified shack with a little heat, a TV and some chairs, comfort.
When it gets close to their time to jump, they begin warming up their muscles with various exercises, which includes jumping into the outstretched arms of a trainer or coach, who catches the jumpers at their hips, enabling them to practice their gliding technique. You can see the jumpers are very slender, no matter how tall they are.
Unlike when a person is swimming, body fat isn’t buoyant when you are trying to cut through the air. The less you weigh the better you glide.
The athletes stretch of course and they check out their jumping gear, especially the skis. The skis are extremely fragile and very light. It is amazing to me that they don’t snap in two, as they seem so skimpy and flimsy, but they are of the highest quality with the latest ski jumping techniques engineered in their design. It is rare that a ski actually breaks or snaps upon landing.
With about 3 jumpers ahead of them, they come out of the glorified hut, to the top of the jump and wait their turn in the cold. The take off point is usually a very cold metal crossbar which serves as a seat. They wait for their coach to give them the ok to jump, which happens when the air current and speed is the most favorable for the jump.
Once they see their coach wave his flag, they begin their brief take off routine. Squatting down very low, with arms pinned to their sides, hands facing back, they push off on their skies and travel a slope that gradually builds in speed as they reach the exit point. It resembles being shot out of a cannon.
Exact timing is critical. The jumpers must perform a number of techniques in a split second. First, the shins must lock at the same time the body gets into its perfect flight position. The ankles must push down and the ski tips must quickly tilt up to catch the ultimate current. The jumper strives to get his skis in the V-position, as quickly as possible. Once the jump is in process the ski jumper must ride the air with as little movement or correction as possible. Depending on the mountain’s size the jump can travel up to 200 plus meters, over 655 feet.
Landing the Jump
As if all of that isn’t enough, they also have to worry about landing with class and style. Points are deducted if a Telemark landing doesn’t occur. That means the skier must land with one sky slightly in front of the other, bending the forward ski leg slightly with arms out to the side, in a final Taa-Dah fashion.
Picture how it feels to travel down a mountain at 60 miles per hour.
It is easy enough to do, since we have all stuck our arms out of a car travelling at that speed at least a few dozen times as children.
Remember the resistance felt against your hand? That resistance is felt by the entire body of the ski jumper. (Made worst if a cross-wind unexpectedly pops up causing the dreaded correction to be made. Finesse becomes the name of the game.)
So you’ve slapped into an air current at 60 mph and now you have to land with style. If you managed to pull off a great jump at the top you end up running out of mountain at the bottom.
Instead of landing on the downhill part of the mountain’s base, you have to land on the flat portion of the mountain's base. It is as if you have fallen straight down from above in that instance. The impact of such a landing can easily cause the jumper to fall and crash hard into the ground. The better the jump, the greater the potential for injury while landing.
At times the Telemark landing has to be sacrificed and style points take a slight hit because the jumper has no other choice if he wishes to avoid serious injury.
However, if you are good enough. . . you are a picture of poetry in motion.
You stick the take off, you fly through the air with virtually no resistance, your positioning is perfect and you look amazing as a result. Your skill allows you to get every meter out of the jump so you successfully run out of mountain as your landing nears.
Even in such a potentially harrowing position, you courageously stick your Telemark landing as you fall from the sky. By the time you land you are travelling at a high rate of speed so you must quickly come out of the landing and bring your skis to a halt before you hit the barriers set up at the bottom of the hill.
Ski jumpers know at the point of take off, whether they have hit or stuck their jump or not. Once the landing is secured, they immediately celebrate the jump with enthusiastic fist pumps as they come to a quick stop. The fans, being very knowledgeable, are also very well aware that a jumper has made a great jump and so loud cheers, horns and applause is heard. Coaches watch their jumpers fly past them while in mid air, they know whether the jump looks good at that point and as their jumper pulls off the landing, the coaching staff is shown celebrating the jump as well.
- Gregor Schlierenzauer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Check out a picture of Schlienrenzauer and his biography.
In the Blink of an Eye
It is amazing how quickly the jumps are completed. It is wonderful that television cameras capture the jumps and replay them so that each jump can be thoroughly appreciated or thoroughly critiqued, as the case may be.
Within seconds you can witness a record being broken. Conversely you can just as quickly miss a record being made, by inadvertently looking away at the wrong instant.
The now 20 year old, is the returning World Champion from 2009. So far this year he has had some major victories but the lead position is too close to call over his competitors. Of course they are all anxiously awaiting the Vancouver Games in February where he comes in as the favorite.
I think ski jumping is amazing and liberating to watch. If you get the chance to check it out this winter, I hope you do so. You will appreciate the athletes and the sport as much as I do, I’m sure.
Gregor In Action
Unfortunately, the best Youtube videos are no longer available to be viewed off of Youtube's site. I have therefore included this video which has no sound, but does illustrate Schlierenzauer's form and athletic ability.
You can click to see all his jumps from the shortest to the longest with Bon Jovi's, "It's My Life" playing in the background, here . No doubt with the Olympics approaching, the most watched videos are no longer available off of Youtube's site.