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Ski jumping seems to capture many people’s attention, it’s simple to follow and the obvious risk of dropping from the height of a 30-story building and launching through the air at up to 62mph (100kph), makes the sport a thrilling watch. Although it may appear straightforward, this high-risk discipline takes incredible skill and accuracy.
A lot of advanced technologies go into the sport of ski jumping. The tracks that you see on the inrun slope have been around since the late 90s, with widespread use in the early 2000s. These tracks are constantly being developed with automatic irrigation system technologies now being used.
Competitively, the event of ski jumping dates back to the 19th century, making it part of the traditional group of nordic skiing.
What Is Ski Jumping?
The event includes a slope of up to 120m (364ft), where the athletes ski down in a crouched position, arms outstretched back, to minimize resistance and increase speeds. This aerodynamic position is helped by their sleek helmet and bodysuit.
The athletes are scored on distance and form, you’ll see them springing outward and upward as they exit the slope to ensure as much horizontal ground is covered.
With, on average, only one in every 100 launches being executed perfectly, the takeoff is where mastering the technique can matter.
Once in the air, most skiers adopt the ‘V’ position. They separate the tips of their skis to form a ‘V’ shape, lean from the ankle with straight legs, and keep their arms by their sides.
This specific position is most effective in maximizing jump distance and flight stability.
You may notice some jumpers moving their arms and hands slightly mid-flight. This is a way of realigning their path to remain airborne for longer.
A Brief History
Ski jumping originates with Olaf Rye, a Norwegian military officer who recorded the first ever jump at 9.5m (31ft) in 1808.
It was then first contested in Norway in 1866 where the ski jumper Sondre Norheim, now known as the ‘father’ of ski jumping, won the first ever prized competition.
The sport then became more widespread in the 20th century, with Europe and North America taking on the extreme sport.
After the first world war competitors started using the Kongsberger Technique which led to the first jump over 100m, by Austrian skier Sepp Bradl in 1936.
The Kongsberger Technique involved a wide forward lean, bent at the waist, and arms reached out above the head. Much like the position of someone diving.
It wasn’t until 1985 that the ‘V’ technique we see in modern ski jumping first came about. Developed by Jan Bokloev of Sweden, spreading the tips of his skis was ridiculed at first. The ‘V’ position showed itself to be a very effective technique and competitors began to copy.
From this point onwards records were regularly being set and ski jumping distances were pushing the limits of what was thought to be possible.
It was soon after this that attention was turned to the technology of the inrun. The slope used to be made from smooth packed ice and snow, until the inclusion of tracks in the late 90s.
A few inches deep, these ceramic tracks allowed for a more precise exit from the ramp and resulted in the skiers traveling further in the air. Ski jumping is one of the original Olympic events and featured in the primary Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France in 1924.
It remains to be a fan favorite each Olympics since and thanks to Bokloev’s ‘V’ technique, and technological advances, it’s increasingly impressive. In March 2017 at the 29th FIS Ski Jumping World Cup, the world record ski jump was set by Stefan Kraft.
The Austrian skier launched himself an incredible 253.5m (832ft), gaining himself the world record title.
You may have watched the ski jumping in the most recent Olympics in Bejing and wondered where all the snow was. The inrun for ski jumping is usually made from a large scaffolding-like steel structure due to its requirement to be up to 120m (364ft) high.
You won’t find any snow on this metal structure either instead, there are just two tracks shoulder width apart. It leads many viewers to question the authenticity of the events at the 2022 Olympic games.
Is there at least snow on the inrun tracks? Well, not exactly, but there is ice. The grooves are ceramic and utilize “ALOSLIDE” technology to create a smooth inrun.
The system uses cooling elements inside the ceramic tracks that create a 20mm thick layer of ice. This combined with automatic irrigation and cooling system makes up some of the most advanced technology in modern ski jumping.
The goal of technology of this kind is to make every competitor’s run-in fair and consistent.
Whether it be the helmet, the skis, or the inrun, ski jumping is a sport of technology and science. The widespread use of the ‘V’ position and the addition of ceramic tracks to the inrun have contributed to the improvement of the sport.
The 250m jumps that we now see in modern ski jumping are a far cry from Olaf Rye’s original 9.5 meters in 1808.