The year was 1983 when 100,000 fans stood below the Harrachov ski flying hill in the pouring rain, all hidden beneath umbrellas. The conditions were dangerous boasting thick fog and strong winds but with a massive crowd and tv contract on the line, the competition went on. Five jumpers left the hill that day in ambulances. Pavel Ploc left the hill that day with a new world record- 181 meters. Ploc’s inrun speed on that jump was an incredible 115.6 km/h.
In 2017 Stefan Kraft shocked everyone with his world record jump of 253.5 meters- 72.5 meters further than Ploc’s jump in 1983. Kraft set his record with just 99.6 km/h of inrun speed- 16 km/h less than Ploc. This stat shows where the sport is headed. Many action sports have evolved towards more speed and more danger. Ski jumping breaks that mold and as these athletes further perfect the art of human flight, the less speed they need.
Mike Holland who hails from Norwich, Vermont set the world record on Planica’s ski flying hill in 1985. Holland can still recall how dicy ski flying was in his day, “On my world record jump, I could feel my skis going all over the place.” Athletes these days have a track which holds their skis in place. Holland is in awe of how the sport has changed since his retirement, “We jumped with cable bindings, no tracks in the inrun, and flew with our skis side by side.” (as opposed to the v style of today). These were all circumstances which contributed to the athletes of Holland’s time needing much more inrun speed in order to achieve far distances. “In the air we were much higher, with much more speed, therefore landing much harder,” said Holland.
It’s amusing and slightly terrifying listening to Holland recount his days as a jumper. “If you were hit by a gust of wind in the air, you would just flip over mid-flight,” said Holland. Though even during Holland’s time as a jumper, they believed they were on the cutting edge of safety. “Ten years before my time, Walter Steiner was ski flying in a hat, no helmet,” said Holland while laughing.
These days, the athletes on the World Cup only utilize the very lowest gates on the hill. This allows them to land at the very bottom of the hill with far less impact. Yesterday during Planica ski flying, the athletes could be seen jumping from the lowest possible start gate on the hill- gate one. In other words, these athletes are getting close to outjumping current hill models.
By forgetting the past, it’s impossible to fully appreciate the present. History is important because it shows how far we’ve come. In regards to ski jumping, human flight has come a long way.