|Ski jumping has been an event at every Olympic Winter Games and in that respect it could be referred to as the "godfather" of extreme winter sports.|
It's hard to imagine such a dangerous sport taking place in the 1924 Olympics in Chamonix, but it was a marquee event in those historic Games. Back then there was just one generic brand of ski jumping, whereas, today it is broken up into three separate events.
The oldest of the events is the individual large hill (140 meters high), which was part of the 1924 Games. The individual normal-hill competition (106 meters) was added at the 1964 Innsbruck Games and the team large-hill competition was unveiled at the 1988 Calgary Games.
The origins of ski jumping can be traced back to Norway in the 1860s. Throughout the mid-1800s, ski jumping was part of ski carnivals in Norway, but legendary Norwegian nordic athlete Sondre Nordheim is credited with the first officially measured ski jump in 1860.
Jumpers usually go into a aerodynamic crouch position with their entire body leaning forward with the head almost touching the skis as they are in the air. The jumper has a 15-second span in which to begin a jump. Jumpers can strategically wait the full 15 seconds or choose to jump immediately, depending on the wind conditions. Ski poles cannot be used and scores are based on distance and style.
TOP CONTENDERS AND CURRENT CHAMPIONS
Not surprisingly, this event has been dominated by Scandinavian countries. Norway, the sport's country of origin, has won the most Olympic medals in ski jumping with 24, but was shut out at the 2002 Games. Finland has won the most gold medals with 10.
The breakout star in ski jumping in the last Games was Simon Ammann of Switzerland. Ammann, who is still only 24 years old, shocked the world by winning gold medals in both individual jumping events despite never medaling in a World Cup or world championship event prior to the Olympics. He quickly earned international celebrity and the nickname Harry Potter for his resemblance to the famous J.K. Rowling character. Ammann was just the second ski jumper to ever win two individual gold medals at a single Olympics, but hasn't finished higher than 13th in the World Cup standings since Salt Lake.
Another one of the leading contenders this year will be Poland's Adam Malysz. The 28-year-old entered the 2002 competition as the favorite, but Ammann's amazing performance made Malysz the odd man out. Malysz did win a pair of medals at Salt Lake, taking the silver on the large hill and bronze on the small hill. Malysz rebounded from his disappointing Olympics the next year by winning the 2002-03 World Cup title and taking gold in the large and normal hills at the 2003 World Championships. He finished fourth in the 2004-05 World Cup standings.
Janne Ahonen has been a ski jumping star for over a decade in his native Finland, but has yet to win an Olympic gold medal. This will be the fourth Games for Ahonen, who made his Olympic debut as a 16-year-old at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Ahonen has won the last two World Cup overall titles and garnered three medals at the 2005 World Championships. He finished fourth at the normal in each of the last two Olympics.
Jakub Janda of the Czech Republic and Finland's Matti Hautamaeki are also leading contenders for medals. Janda won a silver and bronze medal at the 20005 World Championships and finished a career-best sixth in the 2004-05 World Cup standings. Hautamaeki won a pair of medals at Salt Lake, taking bronze in the large hill and earning a silver in the team competition.
Germany won the team gold medal in 2002 behind a strong effort from Martin Schmit.
UNITED STATES/CANADIAN OUTLOOK
Alan Alborn, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, is the United States best and most experienced jumper and has the best chance of gaining a medal for the Americans.
The 25-year-old Alborn will be competing in his third Games after finishing 11th in the normal hill competition at Salt Lake. Since then, Alborn, who holds the U.S. jumping distance record at 221.5 meters, has suffered through a rash of injuries and even retired briefly in 2003.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado's Clint Jones is also one of the best jumpers for the U.S. The 21-year-old Jones finished 42nd at the large hill event in the 2002 Games. He has had disappointing results since then with his best performance coming at the 2005 World Championships when he placed 32nd in normal hill competition.
Both Alborn and Jones were members of the United States 2002 team event at Salt Lake. The Americans placed 11th out of 13 countries in the team category,
For the second straight Olympic Winter Games, Canada will not send any athletes to compete in ski jumping.
- Dan Di Sciullo, Contributing Olympic Editor