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Ski Jumping demystified

other Updated: Feb 12, 2010 22:53 IST

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Discounting (as we should) the awful manifestation of the Olympic dream that was Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, the only skier I can recall from my fleeting interest in the sport is a chap called Franz Klammer.

If you are unfamiliar with these two names, forgive me for leaving you to google Eddie “The Eagle”. Klammer on the other hand, according to Wikipedia, seems worthy of my recollection. The Austrian, who is now 56, won a gold medal in the downhill at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. He also managed a seemingly infeasible 25 World Cup downhills (I imagine they must hold the World Cup every few weeks).

As you might be able to tell, I’m not an expert on ski jumping, but I do know that it’s quite a spectacle. This is the one where a skier, dressed in lycra and a helmet, goes careering down a man-made slope until he reaches a lip at the bottom which catapults both man and lycra over distances which can exceed 145 metres. But it’s not just about the size of the leap.

As Oscar Wilde once wrote, in matters of great importance, style, not substance, is the vital thing. In ski jumping, the “vital thing” counts for about one quarter. It’s not just a straight long jump you see. The man who jumps furthest isn’t always the winner, especially if he’s not looking his best. Let me explain how it works.

A calculation point (or K line) is pre-determined and if the skier jumps off the slope and lands right on it, he gets 60 points. For every metre ahead of or behind the K line 1.8 points are added or subtracted respectively.

The “vital thing” comes from a mark given out of 20 for style. This is determined by judges according to how steady the skis are during flight, overall balance and body position throughout and general tidiness upon landing. Each competitor gets two jumps with his scores combined to determine the winner.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Olympic ski-jumping has been dominated by countries where you need thermal under wear for the greater part of the year. Finland has the most gold medals at 10, followed by 9 from Norway and 5 from Austria. Japan is the only Asian country to have taken the top step (or indeed any step) of the rostrum, having done so 3 times.

I’m quite convinced that it’s rather dangerous, so why not curtail your involvement to that of a spectator.

Courtesy ESPN Star