History of Ski Flying

by Steve
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Oberstdorf Ski Flying Jump and Hill

Remember the Wide World of Sports introduction that exclaimed the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”?  That “agony of defeat” clip was from the 1970 Ski Flying World Championships here in Oberstdorf.  But before I get to that story, let’s go back in time and look at the history of ski flying.

The Beginning of Ski Flying

It was in 1936 in Planica, Slovenia, which was a part of Yugoslavia, when a ski jumper shocked the crowd when he jumped over 100 m (330 ft).  He said it was no longer ski jumping, but ski flying!  After that, ski flying took off on its own.  At that time, the International Ski Federation (FIS) had been saying hills could not be longer than 70 m (260 ft) and anyone who jumped on hills that were longer would be denied a license to jump.  That began the controversy about ski flying that lasted for decades.

Controversy and Dangers

In the late 1930’s, the FIS began to allow experimental hill designs.  In 1949, the ski flying hill in Oberstdorf was built.  The hill is called the Heini-Klopfer-Skiflugschanze (Heini Klopfer Ski Flying Hill) named after the Oberstdorf man who redesigned the hill in 1970.  The hill has been renovated several times since then including just recently in preparation for the 2018 Ski Flying World Championships.

2018 Ski Flying World Championships - Oberstdorf

2018 Ski Flying World Championships – Oberstdorf

As the hills were enlarged.  Each hill wanted to hold the world record.  Jumpers were starting to “out jump” the hills coming very close to landing on the flat part at the bottom of the hill.  Crosswinds became a very dangerous problem.  And because of this, measures were introduced to make ski flying safer.  Safety helmets were required.  Protective wind nets were installed on the sides of the hills.  Hills were redesigned to keep the jumper closer to the ground during flight.

Techniques changed along the way that enhanced the skiers ability to fly.  In the 1990’s, the jumping technique went from a parallel style to that of the V-style we see today.  This created more stability, more surface area and more lift.

The Agony of Defeat

Let’s go back to 1970 in Oberstdorf to the clip of  Vinko Bogataj, a Slovenian, who took that famous fall off the jump in Oberstdorf.  Before you watch the clip below, I’ll point out one thing that is much different today.  Notice he is going down a jump that is just packed snow.  There are no inrun tracks for the skis to set in.  These were introduced in the 1980’s for summer jumping and training and became a part of both ski flying and jumping.

The Sport Today

Ski flying is very popular particularly with the Norwegians, Slovenians, Austrians and Germans.  In 2018, it is being contested on five different hills, all located in Europe.  I have now been to two of the hills…….Oberstdorf and Vikersund in Norway.  The length of the hills range from 235m to 240m.

It is interesting to note back in 1936, the hill that started all of this was 70 m.  Today most ski jumping competitions are on hills of 130 – 140 m, much longer than that hill that started it all in 1936.  We’ve come a long way with the technology of the sport and safety for the jumpers.

Tomorrow…….history of the Ski Flying World Championships, past and present.  In the meantime, have a look at the unofficial trailer for this years world championships.  Please note the design of the jump.  It’s a view that one cannot get from the spectator arena.

I’m wondering.  Have any of you ever been to a Ski Flying or Ski Jumping Tournament?  If so, where and what did you think?  Please leave a comment below.

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