Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Olympic Ski Jumping Makes Splash at Summer Practice Site

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Olympic Ski Jumping Makes Splash at Summer Practice Site

Article excerpt

Drive up a long, winding road into the hills above Park City, Utah, and you might spot a ski jumper soaring through the air over the meadow grass. At the Winter Sports Park, skiing and sledding aren't just for winter anymore.

Athletes spend the summer and fall honing their skills in freestyle and Nordic ski jumping, or practice luge racing. Tourists roar down the bobsled track, or even try their hand at the luge.

Some of these participants are preparing for world competitions or the 1998 Winter Olympics. Others are future Olympic hopefuls. The serious summer training occurs on the ski jumping tracks.

Freestyle jumpers slide down ramps covered with stiff plastic, spin and flip high in the air, then land in a swimming pool. Nordic jumpers, going for distance rather than acrobatics, slide down a ceramic surface, land on a hill lined with plastic mats, then reduce speed by skiing over surfaces of sod and sawdust.

For Nordic jumpers, the skills and techniques closely match what they will need in the winter. But freestyle skiers have to adapt to one difference, says John Bower, director of ski jumps and operations for the park. "They land on a flat surface in the swimming pool and on a slope in the winter," he explains, "so they have to adjust to making a one-quarter extra turn in the winter when the ground is sloping downhill under them."

Safety is a feature of summer jumping. Nordic jumpers who fall slide along smooth plastic to a stop, rather than facing an uneven snow surface. There have been only four injuries in over 10,000 jumps on the park's two tracks.

Freestyle skiers hit the surface harder on water than on a sloping hillside, but they find water a much more forgiving surface. "It's the safest way to add new elements to your jumps," says Sean Curtis, a visiting member of the British team. "We repeat a new jump about 100 times over water before ever doing it on snow. …

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