This time of year, Ford-Sayre ski jumping coach Mike Holland makes it a point to tune in to TV coverage of the Four Hills Tournament. It’s a bit of a trip down memory lane as the Norwich, Vt. Olympian reminisces about the day 32 years ago when he became a Four Hills champion – winning in Bischofshofen, Austria on January 6, 1989.
Holland is one of America’s most successful ski jumpers. The two-time Olympian is the only U.S. athlete to win an event in the prestigious Four Hills Tournee. An engineer by trade, today Holland pursues his passion as a volunteer ski coach – honored in 2020 as U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Development Coach of the Year. Holland talked with Ticket to Fly host Peter Graves about his passion for getting kids into sport and relived memories of that magical win in 1989 in the latest edition of Ticket to Fly: The USA Nordic Podcast.
Today, Holland is making a difference for the next generation of ski jumpers. Under his leadership last season, Ford Sayre qualified five young athletes to the Junior National Championships – the most ever for the venerable jumping club in Brattleboro, Vt. which has a long history of sending athletes to the Olympic and national team.
Mike Holland and his brothers grew up in the Olympic-rich town of Norwich, Vt. Brothers Mike and Jim were ski jumpers, while Joe skied nordic combined – three Olympians in one family.
Holland is a tireless volunteer, working to improve snowmaking, upgrading jumping facilities and recruiting kids from local schools. After retiring as an athlete in 1990, he went into business with his family. He was thrust into coaching temporarily around a decade ago, and it stuck. Now, you can often find him out early packing the hill for jumpers all the while negotiating on the phone for a used winch cat or snowmaking equipment to help make the jumper better.
Today he coaches with brother Joe, working with around 50 kids each year at Ford Sayre in Hanover, N.H., as well as with the Lebanon Outing Club jumps in neighboring Lebanon, N.H. Using his engineering skills, he also developed a portable roller ski jump which is being used as a recruitment tool by clubs around the country.
What captivated you about ski jumping?
I have the type of personality that is attracted to challenges. I like things that are difficult to master. There was just something about seeing ski jumping for the first time that looked beautiful. It’s not easy to jump properly and have control in the air and to overcome your fear in a way that you can fly comfortably and far down the hill. So it was that combination of the beauty of the sport and my personality.
What did it take for you to win as a ski jumper?
I had come close quite a few times. I would put one great jump into a competition, but wouldn’t have a second great jump. And I realized after many years with the US team that it was just my head that was getting in the way, not my body. So I focused heavily on sports psychology. And eventually I was able to overcome the nerves where I knew that after, say, one jump in the competition where I was, I would be able to win if I just had another good jump. I found for some reason with my quirky brain, when competitions were the scariest, because of winds or conditions or just the sheer size of the hill, that’s when I excelled. That’s when I was able to hyperfocus on technique where other athletes who who got nervous under those conditions, it was a detriment to their technique.
How did you feel that day in Bischofshofen?
It made me feel very proud. Our team competed on basically a shoestring budget. All of the European teams that we competed against had such enormous budgets and such an enormous development system and coaches that brought kids from a young level all the way to the Olympics. We really had to scrape to get the training that we needed throughout the year leading up to the competition season. So what I’m the most proud of, together with the other athletes on our team in the eighties and our coaches, is the fact that we did it on such a shoestring budget. It was not easy competing with these countries in Europe where everyone is famous and makes a ton of money and has well-funded teams. We just plain didn’t, but we got it done nonetheless.
What motivates you in ski jumping today working with kids?
We had a practice last night on the 20 and the 32 meter jumps in Hanover where I began on that very 20 meter. It’s where I took my first jump – where I was so scared at 10 years old. We had kids jumping over there. In fact, my 16 year old daughter started ski jumping this winter and she was jumping on that 20 meter last night. She has been a ski racer, but she decided to stop ski racing and join the high school ski jumping team.
There is a group of very dedicated former jumpers – coaches and athletes – who are working very hard to grow the numbers of kids competing in the sport in the United States and to support them in any way that we can. So I’m optimistic. I certainly am. It’s not something that happens quickly. It takes time. And the whole world has hit the pause button because of COVID. But that will soon change. Eventually we will get to the point where we have a larger number of young jumpers on the national team who do well internationally, as we did back in the 80s.
Tune in to Ticket to Fly
Fans can tune in to Ticket to Fly to hear Peter Graves’ full interview with Mike Holland. It’s available on all major podcast platforms. The interview is preceded by a Four Hills Tournee update from Peter Graves and Tom Kelly, complete with athlete interviews after the first three of four events.
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