Read ready for World Cup

BOB MACKIN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:13 PM ET

CALLAGHAN VALLEY, B.C. -- Stefan Read's goals this weekend are modest.

To be the top Canadian ski jumper and finish in the top 30 at the International Ski Federation World Cup.

The 21-year-old Calgarian, who made the first jump from the Whistler Olympic Park's large hill when it opened in early 2008, is competing at his fifth world cup. The forecast chilly temperatures -- which could reach -12 Celsius -- are not a worry. Wind, or lack thereof, is top-of-mind for ski jumpers.

"You can have a headwind which lifts you up -- a great advantage," said Read, nephew of retired alpine skiing great Ken Read. "Or a tailwind that pushes you down when you fly."

Switzerland's Simon Ammann is the number one ski jumper on the world cup circuit. He won double gold at the 2002 Salt Lake Games and gold and silver at the 2007 Sapporo world championships. Four Austrians and two Finns dominate the top 10. Nicholas Fairall of New Hampshire is the highest-ranked North American at 48th.

"There's such a huge fan base for men's ski jumping in Europe it's not even understood over here in Canada," Read said.

European crowds are routinely in the tens of thousands and some of the athletes are celebrities with million-dollar endorsement contracts.

Often considered the first extreme sport, ski jumping was pioneered in Norway 200 years ago. The parallel-ski jumping technique was the norm until the mid-1980s when Swede Jan Boklov jumped with his skis in the V-formation. Finland's Matti Nykanen was king of the hill at the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics with two individual golds and one in the team event. North Americans, however, best remember 1988 underdog Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards of England and Vinko Bogataj, the "agony of defeat" ski jumper of ABC Wide World of Sports fame. The 40th anniversary of Slovenian Bogataj's German crash is March 21.

This weekend's free admission meet is the biggest ski jumping event in British Columbia since a temporary hill was erected for a provincial centennial exhibition in April 1958 at Empire Stadium in Vancouver. That was attended by 25,000.

Ski jumping will be the first -- and only -- competition on the Vancouver Olympics' opening day Feb. 12, 2010. Unless the courts say otherwise.

Ten female ski jumpers are suing VANOC in a bid to force scheduling of a women's event. A B.C. Supreme Court trial starts April 20. VANOC said it is only following the International Olympic Committee's 2006 decision to add only ski cross to the 2010 Games. If the women don't succeed, they will ask a judge to cancel the men's competition at the $120 million taxpayer-funded venue.

"I support the girls, totally," Read said. "If they don't get in, not so good. At the same time their sport needs more developing. For (Sochi) 2014 they should definitely be able to get in."

"I don't think that'll fly through in court."


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