SI.com's writers will preview each event from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Here's Brian Cazeneuve's look ahead to ski jumping.
Imagine flying through the air for more than the length of a football field with wind and flurries impeding your balance and vision. That picturesque blanket of white that you see is nice for the viewer, but imagine having to navigate it without air traffic control. (At least NASCAR drivers are on the ground.) The ski jumping competitions are divided into normal hill and large hill events. The winner of the large hill will sail approximately 400 feet from takeoff to landing.
Austria's 20-year-old sensation Gregor Schlierenzauer won 13 World Cup events last season, dominating his sport like nobody else on snow during the pre-Olympic campaign. And he has been flying, so to speak, since capturing his first international title, soon after the 2006 Olympics at age 16. His uncle is Austrian luge great Markus Prock, who has already placed three Olympic medals on the family mantle. Schlierenzauer is legally deaf in his left ear, and he has become a media darling in a country better known for its alpine legends than its jumpers.
No U.S. jumper has a realistic chance to win a medal in Vancouver, but fans should keep an eye on Anders Johnson. He was just 16 when he made his Olympic debut in Turin in 2006, and he jumped on the U.S. team that finished 14th as a group in Italy. Johnson's progress was slowed earlier this summer when he tore his ACL while jumping outdoors onto grass, a common summer version of the winter event. His sister, Alissa, was also a competitor on the '09 U.S. world team. The soft-spoken Johnson has gained the benefits of both domestic winter sports hubs. He was born in Lake Placid and now lives and trains in Park City.
Schlierenzauer is fast developing a rivalry with Simon Ammann, the Swiss jumper who won double gold at the Salt Lake City Games in '02 and then nearly collapsed from joy as he tried to conduct a post-event press conference. After those Olympics, Ammann went into a funk, jumping poorly and flaming out in Turin, where he finished only 15th and 38th in his two events. But he has rebounded since then, placing second behind Schlierenzauer in the World Cup standings last year and beating him three times this season.
Two things: First, it's enough that ski jumpers should be able to survive their more than 100-meter flights of survival, but their sport also demands they do so with style. (Yes, judges award up to 20 style points for each jump). Skiers who want to achieve the maximum have to hit a perfect telemark landing. Second, these will likely be the last Olympics in which only men compete in jumping. The FIS, the international governing body for the sport, now allows women to take part at the World Championships. A group of women petitioned the Canadian court to gain inclusion into the Vancouver Games, but the court ruled that only the IOC can set the schedule and the committee hasn't included women's jumping. That will likely changes in time for the 2014 Games in Sochi.
Normal hill final round: Feb. 13Large hill final round: Feb. 20Team final round: Feb. 22.