By LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Journalist
ZHANGJIAKOU, China (AP) — Ski jumping captivates viewers every four years, as they fearlessly fly over the length of an American football field as well as the end zones.
Casual fans, however, probably have no idea of the scoring system or the skills and techniques needed to win gold, even though the sport has been part of the Winter Olympics since the first in 1924.
In the United States, most people probably can’t name a ski jumper other than “Eddie the Eagle”, from the 2016 film about Eddie Edwards’ unlikely bid to become a British Olympian.
The Associated Press is here to help. Here’s a look at what to watch, from Saturday when women go for gold, to when ski jumpers sit on a bar about as high as a 40-foot building floors until they slide on artificial snow and wait to see how far they flew and how the judges graded their performance.
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Ski jumpers sit on a bar, calm their nerves with deep breaths, and wait for the green light to go. If there are too many gusts, they must step back from the bar and climb a step to wait for the wind to calm down. A focused mind, which ignores fears, is the key.
With wider and longer skis than those of other disciplines, jumpers descend a steep slope called in-run. They try to avoid contact with the walls of the ice-filled channels and go up to 100 km/h (62 mph) to help them fly further.
Jumpers lead with their helmets, throw their hands back, and squat into a tuck with a flat back for aerodynamics. Balance and flexibility are key.
Near the end of the stroke, both men and women make an explosive leap without moving their upper body to create lift for flight. Launch timing and technique is perhaps the most important part of the 15-second process from sitting on the bar to sliding to a stop in the snow.
Jumpers lean forward with their hands near their hips, hovering their torso above the skis in a “V” shape in a technique used since Swedish ski jumper Jan Bokloev started doing it in 1985 after have previously put them in parallel.
When the skis hit the snow, the judges want one to be slightly ahead of the other and the jumpers to glide gracefully on what is called the overrun.
Jumpers aim for point K of the hill, where it begins to flatten out, to earn 60 points and those over it earn more points while points are deducted from grounding. Five judges award scores of up to 20 points for style from start to finish, looking for jumpers who appear to keep their torso and limbs still while floating through the air and landing gracefully, among other things.
There’s a dirty little secret in the sport, which is plagued by eating disorders. Fat don’t fly is a phrase heard at least in the United States, as physics prevents a heavier jumper from flying farther than a lighter jumper.
Norway’s Maren Lundby decided not to defend her Olympic gold medal because she gained weight and chose to put her physical and mental health first, which caused her to skip the season.
If you’re looking for a winner, maybe don’t pick an American. The United States has only won one Olympic medal, and it happened almost a century ago in what was quite a story. Anders Haugen left the first Winter Olympics in 1924 without any equipment, but 50 years later received a bronze medal after a scoring error was confirmed.
Norway, Austria and Germany are traditional powers. Poland and Japan are also very good. Japanese jumper Ryoyu Kobayashi and German Karl Geiger are relatively safe bets for a podium spot.
On the women’s side, Lundby taking time off and Austria’s Marita Kramer, the highest ranked after testing positive for COVID-19, Germany’s Katharina Althaus and Japan’s Sara Takanashi are the favourites.
This year, for the first time at the Olympics, men and women will compete together in a mixed team event.
Follow AP sportswriter Larry Lage at https://twitter.com/larrylage
More from AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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