Every two years, NBC asks us to pay attention to sports we haven't paid attention to in four years, and expects us to watch because some of the people are American and/or have cool stories. Because we're jingoists and/or suckers, we oblige.
However, we know nothing about those sports. Even the basic things. So we bring you "Olympics, How Do They Work?" to explain/tell you everything about these wintry things.
Today, let's learn about: SKI JUMPING!!!!!!
So, uh, ski jumping?
Ugh, you doofus, do I have to explain everything to you? It's jumping. On skis. Ski jumping.
Actually, ski jumping is one of two events at the Olympics where people put on skis and jump. The other is freestyle skiing, which includes halfpipes and ramps built for doing tricks. Ski jumping is the one where you slide down a big ol' hill built with the express purpose of letting people jump far. (There's also Nordic Combined, which is an event where competitors are asked to do cross-country skiing and ski jumping, but that's its own beast.)
That hill has grooves for your skis and a rise at the end, so you can jump off. The goal is to go as far as possible, and, as you're about to read me get mad about, other stuff too.
So, uh, how does this work?
I recently discovered something about ski jumping. I had assumed in my head that it was entirely based on how far each jumper jumps, but this is not true: The jumps are also watched by judges, who award points based on style ("keeping the skis steady during flight, balance, good body position, and landing.") A jump that lands at the proper length -- 95 meters on a normal hill, 125 on the large hill -- will receive 60 points for distance and 60 for style, 20 each from three judges.
This absolutely outraged me. I'm a longtime champion of people with terrible form succeeding -- say, Prince Fielder jacking home run after home run with a swing that looks like it physically pains him -- and think that if you can fly further than anybody else, you should win, regardless of how ugly you look while doing it. There was actually once a time when the current widely accepted form for ski jumping -- skis shaped like a V -- was penalized by judges.
Of course, upon further investigation, it's not as egregious as it seems. Generally, the person who jumps the longest is also deemed the winner, since a) style generally rewards aerodynamically sound flight, which should hypothetically lead to longer jumps and b) differences in length are worth vast swaths of points -- 2 points per meter on the normal hill, 1.8 on the large hill. If the sport were based entirely on length of jumps, the gold, silver, and bronze in both normal and large hill would have been identical in 2010.
But still: there's the hypothetical possibility that somebody could bust out a longer jump and lose. And that makes me furious. In 2010, Slovakia's Tomas Zmoray jumped 94 meters in the normal hill qualifying round, but was displaced by a pair of jumpers who only went 93.5 meters.
How do we honestly know Zmoray wasn't prepared to bust out a 110-meter leap to best gold medalist Simon Ammann in the final round? We don't. And that, sirs, is a disgrace.
As for format: you have one qualifying jump, and then two medal round jumps whose scores are mashed together.
What are the odds I see something bad happen to somebody?
Oh, my, they're very high. Remember, ski jumping was literally the sport used to embody the agony of defeat in the Wide World of Sports intro:
That was Slovenia's Vinko Bogataj in 1970. He was trying to stop his jump due to heavy snowfall making him feel the jump was dangerous, but everything went boom. (He suffered a concussion.)
This is a sport where you launch yourself down a hill and try to jump the length of a football field. Even if you are the best person in the world at this sport, you are guaranteed to occasionally have your nonsense completely wrecked. As Spencer Hall wrote in 2010, this is the game of insanity.
But this happens often, and to competitive jumpers. Austria's Thomas Morgenstern, who won two golds in 2006 and a team medal in 2010, had a fall in December in Germany, a day after winning the silver medal in the normal hill event at the World Cup:
He suffered cuts on his face, and a broken finger, but he got back to training ... only to lose his balance mid-air and fall again in early January:
Morgenstern suffered lung injuries and has no recollection of the fall, but after a two-week hiatus, was given the all-clear to begin jumping again. DUDE, DON'T DO IT. YOU'RE GOING TO DIE.
What different types of medals are there?
Ski jumping has been contested at the Olympics since 1924, with no new individual categories since 1964.
There is men's normal hill, which features a landing spot 95 meters away. There is men's large hill, which features a landing spot 125 meters away. As you'd guess, these are sometimes won by the same person. Or all three of the same people:
There's also men's team jumping, which is the same, but it's four dudes and you lump all their scores together.
Women were never allowed to compete. Surely there was a good reason for this, right?
Wrong. In fact, the reason women were not allowed to participate was LITERALLY THE DUMBEST REASON OF ALL TIME:
Gian Franco Kasper, (president of the International Ski Federation (FIS) and an IOC member) said he opposed women's ski jumping because it "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."
The peril Kasper alluded to, as other skeptics put it to [ski jumper Lindsey] Van more bluntly, is that a woman's reproductive organs could be damaged - even dislodged - by the cumulative impact of ski-jump landings.
"I've had people ask me had my uterus fallen out yet," Van said, recounting the litany of arguments marshaled against women's ski jumping. "I heard that multiple times; it was comical. And embarrassing - not so much for me but for whoever said it."
Women ski jumpers have been fighting for a long time to get in. They had protested the 2010 Olympics, saying that their inability to compete violated the Canadian constitution. A court agreed, but ruled that the IOC was out of their jurisdiction, and that they couldn't force the event on the Olympics.
But in 2011, the IOC relented, giving the green light for this year's women's event.
Congrats, and may their uteri remain intact, lest they lose the ability to make babies for male ski jumpers.
What's better than actual ski jumping?
Ski Jumping Pairs, a 2006 video game based around the Torino Olympics and the premise that a) pair ski jumping was possible b) the goal of it was to do physically impossible tricks:
The American team rides out with a baby, who is tossed from one ski jumper to the other to make the Japanese commentator yell TOUCHDOWNNNN, while the passer then sprints down the hill to kick the baby for a field goal. Longer videos exist, and they're all exactly as weird:
Unfortunately, pair ski jumping will not be at the Olympics, and points will not be rewarded for touchdowns.
Why am I not a ski jumper?
Because, via Reddit, AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
That's the view from the top of the large hill. You get to the bottom of that big ol' ramp, and then you fly to the green splotch.
Of course, if you were to start ski jumping, you would start on smaller hills -- most likely one with a landing spot 10 meters from the start. But only 13 states have a ski jumping club to begin with, and, uh, those are obviously the ones with the snow and mountains.
It certainly takes incredible coordination, dexterity and durability to become a ski jumper, but no matter how athletic you are, a good ski jumper has to be crazy enough to jump off hills on a pair of skis over and over again. If that -- and money, all that aerodynamic equipment ain't cheap -- isn't a concern, you can keep jumping off progressively larger hills to your heart's content. The Olympics actually doesn't even cover the largest length of ski jumping, ski flying, which takes place on larger hills that frequently see jumpers go over 200 meters.
Your insanity is the only limit, and the guys at the Olympics have that in droves.