Beijing Olympics: in ski jumping, the delicate flight of snow birds



When you ask them the question, they laugh at first. Then think for a few seconds. “It’s hard to put into words…” Like breaking into their secret garden.

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What do ski jumpers really feel during their performance? “You have to live it to understand it”, advises one of the competitors in the large hill, 140 meters high, whose final took place on Saturday February 12 in Zhangjiakou. Some have still found the words to describe this unique sensation.

Gain momentum

Initially, they are only small dotted lines up there. These large poles mounted on giant skis seem so fragile when they stand at the bar of this Olympic springboard topped with a large ring and nicknamed the “Ruyi” for its resemblance to this traditional Chinese scepter.

A gong sounds at the foot of the springboard. It’s the start. “It’s like skiing down a classic slope, begins Kevin Bickner, a young American with blonde hair tied back. We feel a lot of pressure, and we try to keep the same position. » The athlete, legs bent, tries to take the maximum speed on the runway. He reaches 90 km/h, before arriving on the momentum board, his nose. The crucial place.

Jump into the unknown

It is then necessary to give a strong impulse of the legs to reach the airs then to deploy. “This take-off is not a sudden movement, but a long movement”, continues the Canadian Matthew Soukup.

Comes the apotheosis. The Swiss Gregor Deschwanden describes it meticulously, with stars in his eyes: “You jump somewhere where nothing is holding you back. It’s a short moment in the flight where there is no friction. You don’t feel anything, like you don’t have any skis. » A metaphor perhaps? “It feels like stepping into a vacuum cleaner. »

He pauses, contemplates the springboard, as if the words he was looking for were there, lurking in the snow. “After 30 or 40 meters, you feel a reaction. Feels like someone is grabbing you by the back (he mimes by grabbing the back of his jersey, editor’s note). »

Taming gravity

The jumper gets into a V position, to present the largest possible surface to the wind and continue to glide. A technique only adopted in the 1990s, marking a revolution in the discipline, registered in the Olympic Games since the first edition, in 1924.

In total, the flight lasts less than five seconds. “It’s really amazing, it’s going against nature, fighting against gravity,” ignites the Italian Giovanni Bresadola. ” Freedom “, quite simply, completes the Swiss Dominik Peter, whose eyes are hidden behind a mirror effect mask.

think of nothing

“If it’s a bad jump, you don’t feel this feeling of lightness, of softness”, adds Matthew Soukup. From the first moments, the skier knows if he will land far, beyond the “K-spot” or critical point, which serves as a reference for the allocation of points. It is set at 125 meters in Zhangjiakou.

The Austrian Stefan Kraft explains that it is necessary “trying to borrow the perfect shape to play with the wind” : “It’s something very special, which you simply access with your skis and wetsuit. »

“In flight, you really have to make small movements. Slightly change the position of the feet, the skis, to try to go as far as possible”, in turn describes Daniel Andre Tande. The Norwegian suffered a serious fall after losing his balance in the air last March in Slovenia. He was in a coma for several days. What’s going on in his head once in the air? “You have time to think, but usually you don’t think of anything. “At this level, you can have no fear, adds Kevin Bickner. For us it’s fun. »

A green line, marked with a laser, represents the distance reached by the best jumper. Some of these snowbirds stare at it, others ignore it. Comes the reception. You have to land in telemark, one ski in front of the other, knees bent. Because style matters too. It is not enough to hover. The air flies along the body, the skier decelerates. An airplane on the tarmac.

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