Tuesday, 1 January 2008
With the cycling season still some way off, and little inclination to watch any football, I've revived my interest in ski-jumping over the last few days. Let me clarify - I've no interest in actually throwing myself off the side of a mountain just to see how far I can travel. There is nevertheless something graceful, crazy and even theatrical about the sport. Above all it is sport in a very pure form - man against man, each knowing exactly what they must do to win with very little in the way of technological advantages to assist.
In ski-jumping, distance isn't everything. You can clear 140 metres, but if your style isn't right a rival jump of 135 metres may outscore you. Competitors firstly must qualify for the main event. Qualification secured they then jump in a sequence of head-to-head pairs. The highest scorer from each pairing goes through to the second round, with five 'lucky losers' (the highest scoring losers) joining them to take the total number of jumpers in the second round to 30.
Rather like an individual time trial in cycling, the best scoring jumpers go last, piling on the pressure as they know precisely their target. Failing to achieve the right combination of both distance and style in the second round, the score being aggregated with the first round tally, spells defeat. Clear?
At the moment we're two rounds into the prestigious 'Four Hills' competition, a series which tests the sport's elite on the most famous hills in Europe. Based on a series aggregate, victory goes to the most consistent jumper. Sunday's even from Obertsdorf in Ausria was won homeboy by Thomas Morgenstern, who narrowly outscored 17-year old wunderkind Gregor Schlierenzauer, also an Austrian. It was good to see veteran Finn Janne Ahonen (winner of four previous Four Hills series) finishing third on the podium, and the revamped Obertsdorf hill looked resplendent in the evening blizzards. Ahonen prevented an Austrian 1,2,3 and looked like he was coming back into some kind of form at last.
Today the circus moved to Germany and the famous Olympic hill of Garmisch-Partenkirken. Ahonen set the hill alight with a new hill record of 139 metres in the first round. He lost heavily on style however, barely managing to hold together his 'telemark'. With all of the big guns evenly spread behind him, the second round looked perfectly poised, a major feat required by anybody hoping to topple the Finn.
An amazing feat was exactly what we saw. With a jump of 141.5 metres, exceeding the official length of the hill, Schlierenzauer lost nothing in style and stormed to overall victory. With the next round taking place at his home hill in Innsbruck on Thursday, he must be favourite to consolidate and extend his overall lead. Home favourite Michael Neumayer looked good finishing third behind Ahonen, but perhaps the biggest surprise was that Morgenstern failed to make the podium. Morgenstern remains second overall in the series thanks to his Obertsdorf victory, however, and you can be sure he'll be breathing down young Schlierenzauer's neck in the last two rounds.
I never though I'd be opening 2008 with a round-up of the day's ski jumping results, but life sometimes takes unexpected turns. Whether this piece is to be taken seriously or just a technical exercise to keep me amused, I'll leave to you to decide.
Happy New Year to my remaining reader(s)!!!