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Soaring high

On the Seefeld Ski Jump

Soaring high

During ski jump training in Seefeld, with students from Stams Ski College.

Text: Eva Schwienbacher, Picture: Johannes Mair / Alpsolut

Ski jumpers are getting a little closer to realising the millennia-old dream of flying. But what qualities are required of a ski jumper? How do they train? And what role does courage play? sport.tirol has found answers to questions like these at the ski jump in Seefeld.

Clemens Leitner sits on the start-bar of the Normal Hill in Seefeld. He pushes off with his hands and assumes the typical downhill position: upper body forward, hands back, legs bent. He skis down the jump’s inrun. Clemens launches himself off the start ramp - and flies.

“You can’t compare ski jumping to anything else. When you have a good jump, you are literally sucked up into the air and feel weightless," explains Clemens Leitner. It is the second jump training for the ski jumper from Mils, after a meniscus operation necessitated an injury break of several weeks. “Training is going better than expected. I feel good and am making rapid progress, “ says the 19-year-old, who is one of the older and more experienced students at Stams Ski College. He will complete his jump training in the Nordic Competence Centre in Seefeld with around 30 colleagues on this December day, in the hope that the efforts of his arduous dry training will pay off.

Clemens Leitner during ski jump training in Seefeld.

Training developments

Ski jumping has changed and developed a great deal in recent years, explains Harald Haim, Sporting Director of the ski jumpers at Stams Ski College. This has also had an effect on the athletes. "Ski jumpers used to be the audacious ones, who were fearless and just launched themselves off the jumps. Courageousness still plays a role today, but it's not the only factor."  Developments in materials have improved flight characteristics, simplified the sport and made it safer. “Today’s ski jumping is all about fine motor skills, coordination and speed."

What’s more, weight is a greater factor than ever before. "The ski jumper should be as light as possible, whilst having good jumping power," says Haim. While a shot-putter uses muscle training in the classical sense as the basis for his/her explosive power, ski jumpers forego progressive muscle building training, in order to prevent weight gain. “Training also therefore focuses on coordination, in addition to technique and fitness," says Haim.  

Due to the fact that weight is a performance-determining factor, some ski jumpers feel obliged to follow an overly strict diet.  However, the body must be supplied with sufficient energy and nutrients to achieve the required performance.  The topic of nutrition therefore has high priority at Stams Ski College. “In many people’s minds, the ‘lighter the better’ adage is what counts,” says Heim. “We are trying to steer people away from this way of thinking. It is much more important to eat the right food. And that's what we want to teach the athletes”.

From Alpine to Nordic

Most ski jumpers in Austria come from the alpine sector. Max Schmalnauer's path to ski jumping was also made via the slopes. During a "Guglhupf" competition - an introductory event for children - the 19-year-old student from Stams tried his luck at the Nordic discipline for the very first time. "Having always been one to enjoy jumping while skiing, it quickly became clear to me that I would become a ski jumper," says the young athlete from Bad Ischl during jump training at the Nordic Competence Center in Seefeld.

Ski jumper, Max Schmalnauer, took a liking to the sport during a children's competition.

As a ski jumper, being able to ski is an important prerequisite, explains Haim. "Ski jumpers have to ski down the hill, jump off and land safely - which is only possible if you can ski." While children in Norway, where cross-country skiing is a national sport, dare to take their first jumps using cross-country skis, youngsters in this country make their first attempts in regular ski gear. Boots and bindings are then swapped for Nordic versions later on.

Ski jumping is also a matter of the mind

Most athletes acquire their basic skills in a ski jumping club. First, they jump on small jumps, then gradually work up to the normal hill. If the ambitious ski jumpers then make the grade for Stams Ski College, they will first encounter technique training on the school curriculum. And, as in other disciplines, mental training. "Students who come to Stams are very motivated and often only see the training and the sport," Haim explains.  "Therefore, especially at the beginning, we attach great importance to making students aware of the challenges they may face and try to teach them techniques that will help them deal with them.”

Mental training is given in all disciplines during the early years. Students also have the opportunity to take extra private lessons. “This offer is taken up by around 70 percent of all beginners. This proves to us that they need support, especially at the beginning of their careers," says Haim. "We may not be able to take the pressure off them, but we can provide them with support."

Harald Haim

"Self-confidence is a crucial success factor. When you take off, you have to believe that the air will hold you.”

So much goes on in your head, especially with ski jumping.  "Self-confidence is a crucial success factor. You have to dare to complete movements that are not necessarily natural, and even seem threatening at first. When you take off, you have to believe that the air will hold you.” Confidence may waver, especially in bad conditions when the wind suddenly gets up. At times like these, you have to overcome your fear. "Ski jumping is a risky sport. It is a great feeling to soar through the air. On the other hand, it is a dreadful feeling when the aerodynamics let you down. It is like driving in a snowdrift.

Waiting for the command

As Sporting Director, Harald Haim is personally in charge of a seven-man training group. Haim keeps a close eye on his protégés during jump training. As soon as they are allowed to jump, he gives the athletes a hand signal from a tower next to the jumping facility. Athletes are only allowed to start after he has issued the start command. Haim records the jumps with a camera, in order to analyse them with the athletes afterwards.  

As soon as they are allowed to jump, he gives the athletes a hand signal from a tower next to the jumping facility.

Harald Haim, Sports Director for the ski jumpers at Stams Ski College, is responsible for the training plans.
© Schigymnasium Stams

Because what appears at first glance to be a simple act, is in fact a complex interplay of physical and mental strength, weight division, instinct and physics. The flight will only be successful if all parameters are right. Skiing down the ramp alone requires both finesse and precision, explains Harald Haim. “The athletes must maintain a dynamic balance on their way down. This means they must assume an aerodynamic crouch position, not lean too far forwards or backwards, nor too high or low. The actual jump is all about daring to leap into nothingness. That takes some balls.”

What follows is a very brief moment in which one does not feel much, except that the skis continue to glide in the air, Haim explains: “You realise pretty early on if you are too fast, or being braked by the drag, or - and this is the ideal case - the lift pushes you up, and you are in flight. Then you can just savour the moment. “It is exactly this feeling that motivates the young ski jumpers from Stams Ski College to jump down the steep hill over and over again. By achieving the perfect jump, they want to realise not only the eternal dream of being able to fly, but also their aspirations of flying high amongst the world’s best ski jumpers.

© 2017 Tirol Werbung