How Do They Measure Ski Jumping Distance? You Actually Need a Special License

Measuring ski jumping distances can’t be done by a computer alone. 
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On the surface, Olympic ski jumping looks every bit as easy to score as speed skating or cross-country skiing. But in fact, measuring each jumper’s distance is part science, part art form. 

Ski jumper are awarded points for style—for maintaining proper form during the jump, landing and subsequent run-out—and for distance. The style points are judged by a group of five judges, but distance is calculated by a specially trained person at a computer. 

This video from the International Skiing Federation (FIS) explains how it works. The distance spotter has access to four camera angles that show the skier’s landing. (Setting up the cameras is another person’s job.) Distance marks are overlaid on top of the video footage. The spotter examines each angle to determine which one offers the best view of when both skis hit the ground. Once they find that angle, they assign a landing distance. 

The person’s job is to decide exactly when both skis hit the ground, which can be tough because skiers sometimes glide quite close to the surface of the landing area before actually touching down. If it sounds like a tough job, that’s because it is. Each distance spotter has to pass a series of practical and theoretical tests before receiving a license from the FIS. Licenses are issued at different levels and judges at the Olympics have the highest qualifications.