Better Know A Winter Olympics Sport: Ski Jumping, The Game Of Insanity

What it is: Pure insanity concocted by bored Dano-Norwegian military officers, that's what. Unlike many sports, we can trace ski-jumping back to its spiritual and literal grandfather, one very real Olaf Rye. In 1809, Olaf Rye jumped 9.5 meters (31 feet)  in the air in front of a crowd of other officers in an age before antibiotics or surgery not involving hacksaws and a stick for the patient to bite down on during the ordeal. Olaf Rye was, in the parlance of our times, "gangsta as hell." 

Many crashes and successes later, the sport is still basically one dude--and they are just dudes, despite female ski jumpers petitioning unsuccessfully to join the Games this year--flying down a hill off a ramp and into glory or an extended hospital stay. Ski jumping at the Olympic level involves three events: 

  • The Normal Hill Individual, where jumpers begin at a height of 90m 
  • The Large Hill Individual, where jumpers start from 120m
  • The Large Hill Team, where everyone goes from 120 m in a combined team competition.  

On their way down, racers tuck for maximum speed and then spring off the edge of the ramp into flight, with almost all jumpers leaning forward in the Boklov pose: skis tilted out in a V-shape and with the body stretching forward, a position giving the jumper approximately 30% more lift in the air. This was named after Jan Boklov, a Swedish jumper who first employed the technique in the 1980s, and who like all ski jumpers is barking mad. 

Jumpers are placed according to the distance between the K-point and the landing, with the K-Point being the edge of the ramp. Besides that one bit of knowledge, the rest is simple: distance wins along with a little bit of style thrown in, and no points are awarded for merely landing safely, because landing is assumed, even if it doesn't always happen. 

What To Watch For: The individuals are fun, certainly, though you won't have a clue who any of the jumpers are as a casual fan since ski-jumping is fairly exotic even for an Olympic sport. Additionally, the United States team is flat-broke, has not had a sponsor since 2006, and had one bronze medal in the entire eighty-six year history of ski-jumping as an Olympic sport, so you have no real reason as an American fan to know much about the dramatis personae here. 

You are out of excuses now, however. Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria is the odds-on favorite in the individuals, having won eight World Cup ski jumping events this year. (If you can read German, his website ist hier.)  His Austrian team has to be favored in the team competition after winning the overall title for this season, too, though Germany's strong performance in the World Cup has to put them in contention, as well. Norway is the other notable squad, as they are coming off a second place performance to the Germans, have a historically strong team, and because they are all Scandinavian, really skinny, and insane enough to launch themselves off a ramp at 95 miles per hour onto a snowy hill. 

When To Watch: Ski Jumping kicks off the games, not the opening ceremonies. While you have to wait until 9:00 p.m. EST for the opening ceremonies, ski jumping normal hill individual qualifiers begin at 1 p.m. EST on Friday, February 12th. Team competition takes one day on the 22nd, while the individual long hill jumps are on the 19th and 20th. All competitions take place in Whistler. 

Why To Watch: Because ski-jumping is people jumping off a 120 foot tall hill and trying to land successfully? Either this sells you on the sport, or it doesn't. I can't make you want PURE AWESOME, Olympic viewer. it either tickles your fancy, or you hate adventure, risk, thrill, danger, injury, and all the good things in life. Take your pick. 

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