January 30, 2006
Jumping for joy
GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

Evel Knievel used to fascinate fans by soaring high over 30 trucks.

As they say in show business, you ain't seen anything until you've watched ski jumpers zoom down a long almost sheer vertical ramp, then take off into the air for a few seconds before landing up to 230 metres away. That's more than the length of two football fields!

Even the most stoic journalist has to be captivated by these daredevils who literally throw caution to the wind every time they take off from the ramp in apparent kamikaze fashion.

Perhaps the most intriguing such experience was to watch the ski jumpers at work in the 1976 Olympic Games at Innsbruck, Austria. Standing at the bottom of the hill, you could see the jumpers take off and then float in the air over a cemetery before landing on the other side. No doubt the competitors were focussed on clearing the cemetery because failing to do so would make them part of it!

Trying to trace the origins of the sport causes problems due to the conflicting claims made concerning the sport's debut. One source laid claim to the fact that ski jumping began as a show of courage in 1809 when Olah Rye, a Norwegian officer, ski jumped 9.5 metres in the air in front of his fellow soldiers.

Another source insisted that the first true competition was held in Trysil, Norway in 1862, while IOC files claim the sport can be tracked back to 1860 when Norwegian Sondre Norheim, considered by many the father of ski jumping, jumped and reached 30 metres over a rock -- without poles. This record stood for 30 years, one of the longest-lasting record in sports.

The same IOC files point to the fact that the first Olympic champion was Norway's Thulin Thams, who developed the Kongsberger Technique with the upper body bent at the hips, a wide forward lean and with arms extended at the front. This new technique led to jumps of over 100 metres.

Swiss jumper Andreas Daescher developed a new technique in the 1950s by holding his arms backwards close to the body with a more extreme forward lean.

The most successful technique was developed by Swedish jumper Jan Bokloev, who spread the tips of his skis into a "V" shape. The IOC says that he was at first laughed at and penalized by the judges. However, after he won the 1989 World Cup, all ski jumpers began changing their technique to the "V"-style.

So successful was this technique that, in 1994, Austrian ski jumper Andreas Goldberger became the first competitor to break the 200-metre mark when he landed at 202 metres on the giant ski jump at Planica, Slovenia.

The first superstar of ski jumping was Norwegian Birger Ruud who won Olympic gold in 1932 over Norwegian Hans Beck, both hailing from the mining town Kongsberg. Ruud was so talented that in the 1936 Winter Olympics he competed in both Alpine skiing and ski jumping. According to reports from those days, Ruud led the downhill slalom race by 4.4 seconds but was penalized six seconds for missing a gate.

Ski jumping has been part of the Olympic Winter Games since the first Games in Chamonix Mont-Blanc in 1924.

The Large Hill competition was included on the Olympic program for the 1964 Olympic Games in Innsbruck.

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DID YOU KNOW?

Aerodynamics has become a major factor with jumpers using airfoil suits that are regulated.

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THE RULES

There are three events at the Olympic Games:

INDIVIDUAL NORMAL HILL

The only ski jumping event from the normal hill, which has a K-point between 75 and 99 metres high. There are two jumps (first and final round) and the athlete with the highest total score is declared the winner. After a qualification round, there are 50 athletes participating in the first round. In the final round the field is reduced to

30 jumpers.

INDIVIDUAL LARGE HILL

This event is contested on the large hill, which has a K-point larger than 100 metres. There are two jumps (first and final round) and the athlete with the highest total score is declared the winner. After a qualification in the first round, there are 50 athletes participating. In the final round, the field is reduced to 30 jumpers.

TEAM EVENT

This event is usually contested on the large hill. There are four members on each team and there are two jumps (first and final round). In the first round, all teams start. In the final round, the field is reduced to the eight best teams. The team with the highest total score over the eight jumps is declared the winner.

There is no separate women's event at the Olympics but Canadian 2010 organizers and other countries such as Norway are lobbying hard for its inclusion at the Vancouver games. In addition to the separate sport of ski jumping, with the three events listed above, ski jumping is one of two elements in the Nordic Combined event (along with cross-country skiing).