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Luis on Ski Jumping Hill Tournament: the dream of flying - (possibly) becomes reality

on 2017-02-02

Just in time for the comeback of the ski flying in Oberstdorf, presents the second part of columnist Luis Holuch's visit in Oberstdorf! In this episode, Luis tells about his experiences in the Erdinger Arena, his visit of the renovated Heini-Klopfer-ski-flying-hill and which female ski jumper could possibly become the seventh woman on a ski flying hill. As always, we wish you a lot of fun at reading and are looking forward to your feedback!

Luis on Ski Jumping Hill Tournament

By Ski Jumping Hill Archive author and photographer Luis Holuch

The welcome Oberstdorf gave me on this Thursday was appropriate for a winter wonderland place: snow, overcast sky that is sending down snowflakes constantly and only half-cleared train platforms. But, I am absolutely happy I took the train. Everything worked out without any trouble and I was even able to write some notes for possible interviews. A couple of days before departure I got the positive news about my accreditation application, which was now one of many reasons for my inner relaxed mood. But, as I stepped out the train, it became a little difficult to keep this mood. The town center and walking paths of Oberstdorf were not cleaned from snow either. This would not have been a big deal if I did not only had my bag with me, but also my trolley to carry my winter clothes with me.

And I really did this for a reason, because the weather forecast “promised” temperatures down to minus 25 degrees Celsius and maximum minus 5. >>This actually could become the coldest weekend I spend mostly at a ski jumping hill<<, I thought. It took me 15 minutes to walk up to the accommodation. A woman without the regional dialect welcomed me, so I asked her if she moved there from somewhere else. “Yeah, I am also from Nordrhein-Westfalen, like you”, she said while she showed me the house and the most important spots there. “I booked you into another room, so that you do not have to walk the snow for breakfast in the morning”, she also said. This was the first of quite a few nice surprises the weekend gave to me.

I was waiting for my friend Freddi, who I met six years ago via this website. At first, we just had email contact, then were part of a Skype group and in January 2013 we went to a competition together for the very first time, to the Ladies’ World Cup in Schonach. The last time we saw each other was in Planica 2015, so almost two years ago and finally it worked out for both of us again. Freddi was stuck in a traffic jam and did not really know when he would arrive in Oberstdorf. But, shortly after 8 pm, he arrived and we went straight to Pizzeria Alberto for a small dinner. The next morning was just marvelous – the sun was shining and so were we, the snowflakes were glittering and the air was dry and clean. Freddi also got a positive response to his accreditation application and so we went to the race office together. Accidently, we chose the wrong room, but there we met Nico Polychronidis, the first Greek ski jumper and a born Oberstdorf man.

“Hi, good to see you here. How are you doing?”, I asked him. “I am good, thank you. I kind of expected to run into you”, he answered and gave us his hand. “Oberstdorf is a must-do for me. What are you doing these days? It has been a long time since I saw you on official result lists”, I wanted to know. “That is true, I am now in the trial jumper business. I am a trial jumper myself and also deal with the whole organizing thing”, Nico said. “I see, that surely makes a lot of fun as well. So, the big thing is not on your schedule anymore?”, I asked. “Actually, no. The perspectives did not look good anymore. I made it to the Olympics and went ski flying, I do not thing I can reach higher levels anymore”, he said. “Too bad, but it seems you are a man of the species who does not get over this sport”, “yeah, you could say that”, “so then, have a lot of fun and all the best”, “thank you, same to you and see you”, so we split again and Freddi and I picked up our accreditation.

“So, what are we going to do now?” I asked. “Since this weather is just lovely, we should go to the ski-flying hill. And with our tourist card we are able to park for free”, Freddi answered. We walked back to our hotel and went in his car. The car trip itself through the Stillach valley to the ski-flying hill is a unique experience – just as driving to Planica. With every meter, you get more and more excited. But this excitement stopped in the moment, a guard stopped our car at the parking area next to the last side road of this valley road. “All our parking areas from here are full, so either walk the rest or take the bus”, he told us. Disapproval, Freddi parked the car. As the cassa machine did not want to take our tourist cards, we quit this. The guard disappeared meanwhile and so we went back on the road. Until we were stopped again at the cross-country stadium. The female guard told us exactly the same story as her male colleague, so we once again drove on the parking area disapproval. Here, at least, the cassa machine took our tourist cards.

It took us a walk of 20 minutes through the forest until we saw the first parts of the Heini-Klopfer-Skiflugschanze. Similar to small kids on Christmas, we could not stop our excitement anymore and started walking very fast. In the moment, where I wanted to take a first photo, my iPhone went out of order. At a battery status of 50 percent. “Oh come on, what is that?!”, I yelled. “Well, that happens when you buy a…”, Freddi wanted to start a joke. “Oh no, my phone is also out of order now”, he argued. “Well, this means it is not about the phone model”, I laughed. “Probably, minus 15 degrees is too cold for them”, Freddi said. We passed the local Sepp Weiler flying-hill restaurant and went to the new-built inclined lift. A slope machine was driving on the slope to clear it from unnecessary snow. Almost desperate, we were trying to start running our smartphones again. “Don’t you have your camera with you?”, I asked Freddi. “No, it’s in our room”, he said quietly. “Now, you are a really professional photographer”, I laughed aloud and Freddi did this either.

But actually, he did not really need it since the stairs at the slope concrete walls were not free from snow, so we would have had to walk the mountain road to reach the inrun tower. The look on the clock told us noon was almost there and so we decided to postpone our complete inspection until the next day. Our smartphones recovered from the temperature shock and started working again. I received a message of a sports editor of a local newspaper, who wanted to write an article about me since the sport of ladies’ ski jumping was the topic of my bachelor thesis. I suggested a meeting in front of the Erdinger Arena shortly before the start of the official training in the afternoon. If the transport works out, I usually arrive at the hill 15 minutes before the first jump. Since we only had to walk 10 minutes from our hotel to the hill, it worked out perfectly on this Friday. Besides my notes for the interviews, I brought a self-made start list and my laptop with me. I arrived at the meeting point at 14:45.

It took only a short time until the colleague walked up to me and said “Hello Luis, I am Ronald. Nice to meet you. I see, you also have an accreditation, so let’s go downstairs and have a talk”, “my pleasure, I am excited about this story.” We went down to the catacombs of the stadium to the press center and took a seat. Ronald asked me about the idea of the bachelor thesis, the working process, my goals when I was writing it and what happened since I have finished working on it. We went deep into the topic, so we missed the beginning of the official training. Luckily, we noticed that quickly and interrupted our talk to walk upstairs to the mixed-zone and watch the jumping. Ronald noticed I was writing down every single distance. “What do you do this for?”, he wanted to know. “I am working on a list of personal best distances together with a chronicler. And since the large hill competitions are still very rare on the World Cup, a lot of jumpers could raise their personal best. So, I am writing down every distance and check, who was able to improve”, “no kidding?! So, you could tell me on Sunday how many improvements we have seen here?”, “yes, Sir. The number of improvements and also who improved how many times”, “okay, I really start believing you are a maniac. But I would really like to use this service”, Ronald smiled. “Sure, absolutely no problem”, I smiled back.

Shortly after this conversation FIS media coordinator Sascha Brand walked up to us and said: “listen guys, in case you want to talk to one of the girls, please let me know. Otherwise, we send them back to the top of the hill. It does not make a lot of sense to send them all around here, so they check if maybe someone wants to talk to them.” “Alright, that sounds fair. We will let you know after the second training”, we told him. Besides me and Ronald, another newspaper editor, two agency people, two colleagues from the Japanese television and the media stuff of the ski club Oberstdorf in the mixed-zone. In addition, the spectators’ interest with about 500 visitors was a little small. But, somehow, these were perfect conditions for a couple of interviews. Our small group told Sascha who to send to us and so the qualification was a mixture of concentrated watching and talks with athletes.

In the mixed-zone I meet Ulrike Graessler, the vice World Champion of 2009. The last time we talked, I was in the writing progress of my bachelor thesis and Ulrike was preparing for the season. After a tough crash with several difficult injuries, she is still on her way back to the hill. “So far, I feel fine and I hope to make my first jumps by the end of the winter”, she said. Now, we were kind of colleagues, since she was starring in a couple of video clips of the German Ski Federation to give fans an inside view of a Ladies’ Ski Jumping World Cup. “Actually, I see my strengths in analyzing jumps and competitions, like I was doing it for Eurosport in the last season. This here is something different, but it makes still a lot of fun. And, the fact, that the girls can jump the large hill makes it even more exciting, although I would have loved to jump as well, of course”, she explained. And as a conclusion of the weekend, she added on Sunday: “If someone was doubting before, this was the final proof that the girls can jump the large hills. Every single participant showed this right here, in conditions that were far from easy. And this is a thing to work with.”

Besides the two athletes Nicole Hauer and Sarah Hendrickson, which I mentioned in the first part, I also wanted to talk to Maren Lundby. The 22-year-old Norwegian was able to win her first World Cup one month before in Nizhniy Tagil. “Actually, I did not really celebrate it. Of course, I enjoyed it, but I had to focus on the upcoming competitions”, she said. Such as this large hill weekend in Oberstdorf. “It is a good and important step in the right direction. Only this can be the way for our sport and I hope there will be more and more large hill competitions in the next years”, was her opinion. I could not help myself and asked her about the dream of every female ski jumper – ski-flying. And I was honestly surprised about her answer: “I definitely feel ready for ski flying. And if everything works out, I will jump in Vikersund in March as a trial jumper. I have to jump constantly good on a higher level and if everything works out, they will probably let me fly.”

In the first place, Maren Lundby is more known for her ambitious and the courage on the hill, she shows when she is leaving the take-off. The fact, she was talking very open about this big topic ski-flying in our very first conversation, was as surprising as impressive to me. She would write history if she really got the permission to jump on a flying hill. The last time women were ski-flying was at the only ski-flying competition in the Continental Cup ever in 2004 – in Vikersund as well. Anette Sagen and Line Jahr (both Norway), Lindsey Van (USA) and Helena Olsson (Sweden) were the last women who were allowed to jump on a ski flying hill. The women’s world record is still 200 meters and surely could be broken by Lundby without any doubt. And, as you all know, Vikersund is not just one ski flying hill. Currently, it is the world’s biggest ski flying hill. Of course, it has the lowest and most secure flight curve, but exactly this fact makes this hill the perfect hill for letting a rookie like Lundby jump it. If you just look on her skills objectively, she would definitely be able to jump it. Without any doubt.

Just in case anybody was doubting or not sure: the dream of flying is still alive. And in the mind of female ski jumpers it is probably bigger than in the minds of her male colleagues. Because they already have the chance to live this dream.

Emotionally caught by the meetings, happenings and experiences of this day, Freddi and I went back to our hotel. We did not feel the minus 22 degrees Celsius outside at all. Not outside and not inside in our warm room. We sat in our beds and watched the final round in Bischofshofen and decided to cancel the dinner. Instead of that, we took a look on the photos Freddi took. I asked him for some shots while I was talking to the athletes. He has got the talent and also the necessary bit of luck to catch moments with his cameras which are very expressive or that entertaining that you would not think you would see a conversation between journalist and fan, but between two friends. After a short sauna visit, we went to bed, but were not able to sleep before midnight.

We were ready way earlier than the day before and so we decided to go for our flying hill inspection. It takes 40 minutes from the outrun to the inrun tower by walking the mountain road and a forest path. At both places, there were still some building materials stored, but the main important work was done. It reminded me to the situation of the new-built Letalnica in Planica during the World Cup Final 2015: the hill was ready to use and matched with the standards of a World Cup, the fine-tuning was not done yet, but will be finished until the next competitions. Despite the great snow situation, two snow makers produced snow on this day. While the old slope was completely natural, the new porch is artificial. This was clearly visible as well as where they cut off the old take-off.

The simple design of the metal construction does not destroy the whole impression of this unique facility at all. After people found out about my visit, a lot of them came to me and asked how far you could jump the new Heini-Klopfer-Schanze. And I honestly have to say: it is very difficult to evaluate that. For two reasons: firstly, there was way too much snow on the slope. Snow, which would cost meters. And secondly, it is hard to imagine the flight curve. My optical impression told me that the new take-off is not as high as the old one and the radius just before the outrun is not as small and tough as those of Vikersund, Kulm or Planica. The hill still has its very own character traits, which is very surprising due to the security and building politics in the last couple of years. The last distance plates at the concrete walls are at 250 meters.

I am completely excited about how this flying hill will be like on this opening weekend. The last big secret among the things you could possibly know before is the question: who will make the very first jump on this hill? Until his shocking and painful injury, I would have placed a bet on Severin Freund. But, now I have absolutely no clue – like anyone else who is not involved in the opening ceremony. I am also thinking if the hill directly shows what is possible here or if it takes a couple of years, like in Vikersund, until the real potential is visible. Anyhow, it is just great to see this hill back in order. For me, it always has been my second favorite ski flying hill, only behind Planica. Thanks to the architecture and the attractive competitions, which were almost never influenced by wind and weather.

So, let this weekend surprise us. As a real ski jumping fan, you really should not miss the happenings. And, to come back one last time to the ski flying ladies’: if I could choose were to have the very first ski flying event for women, I would definitely choose Oberstdorf. I could not say it better than Maren Lundby: “Oberstdorf is a really nice place, I totally enjoy being here.”


Ski Jumps:

GER Oberstdorf (Skisprung Arena)
GER Oberstdorf (Skiflugschanze)



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