John F. Russell: Ski jumpers make sport look easy

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

— I still can remember the first time I climbed up the steep-pitched slopes of Howelsen Hill to cover a ski jumping competition on Steamboat Springs’ large hill.

I remember watching the jumpers push off the bar at the top of the jump, speed down the in-run and launch into the air. Most of the jumpers landed on the steep-pitched out-run and raced to the bottom. I tried to imagine what type of person would want to be a ski jumper and how they made it look so easy.

In the past 20 years, I’ve returned to the hill countless times, photographed hundreds of jumpers and spent hours reporting on events ranging from Rocky Mountain Division meets to World Cups. In that time, I’ve witnessed only a few crashes, and after each of them, the athletes walked away. The only things that got injured in those crashes were the young men’s egos.

Watching ski jumpers fly down the hill at Howelsen is something I could take for granted. Sure, I’m still amazed by what these young athletes do, but there are times when I forget what ski jumpers risk every time they push off the bar and fly to the bottom of the hill. On Friday, two incidents reminded me that there is nothing routine about ski jumping. It reminded me of what’s at stake for the athletes who are competing.

Nobody has to tell Steamboat’s own Todd Lodwick or Austria’s Thomas Morgenstern what’s at stake after two accidents on ski jumps in Europe this week.

I didn’t see what happened in Lodwick’s fall, but it sent chills through the Nordic combined community in Steamboat Springs. The accident sent Lodwick to the hospital with a shoulder injury, and could threaten his sixth Olympic appearance.

There isn’t a lot of information, but U.S. Nordic Combined coach Dave Jarrett said Lodwick would return to the United States to be evaluated. He also said the team still was planning on Lodwick competing in Sochi next month.

Morgenstern’s crash came during a World Cup ski flying competition in Tauplitz, Austria. I watched the video online, and it’s scary. Morgenstern lost his balance in the air, landed awkwardly and then slid down the steep out-run to the bottom of the hill. He was knocked out for a brief period of time but was able to talk to medical personnel shortly after the crash. He went to the hospital and is recovering with head injuries and a bruised lung.

The incidents are reminders of what ski jumpers risk when they take flight. It’s the kind of risk and excitement that draws people to the ski jump hills to compete, or just to watch.

In a world filled with extreme sports, and in places like Steamboat Springs where we can watch ski jumpers on most winter afternoons, the sport may seem a bit routine. But there is nothing routine about the athletes who are drawn to the sport, and there is nothing routine about flying in Colorado’s thin mountain air.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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