Still in development, the `smart ski boot' promises to add an extra edge to competition. SKI JUMPING has traditionally been one of Finland's top sports, both in terms of international success and popularity among spectators. The sport is extremely popular throughout Scandinavia as well as in central Europe and Japan. From the spectator's point of view, the sport may look simple: you just come down the hill and try to jump as far as you can without falling. In reality, it demands lots of relentless work. Besides the athlete's own physical and mental abilities, training and equipment are key to success. significant changes in his training and competition program this year. "It doesn't really make much difference in the way I train anyway," says Ahonen. "The World Cup series is important as a whole and you just try to jump well all winter. "Of course in the last week or two before a big world-class event, you do the final finetuning, and you usually consider whether you should compete in the last World Cup events in the run-up, or whether you should just train at home. It always depends on the situation. Otherwise there is no particular preparation." CONSTANT DEVELOPMENT A ski jumper's results in a competition can be influenced by a variety of external factors. The weather especially wind can play a significant role in a competition. It is difficult for even the best jumper to succeed in bad wind conditions. On the other hand, a favourable wind can help even a mediocre jumper score an extremely long jump. However this sport is not just about the length of each jump. There are also judges who rate each jumper's style, and these style points are added to the length of each competitor's jumps for the final score. The last big change in ski jumping came in the 1980s when the so-called V-style replaced the traditional jumping technique. There do not seem likely to be any more major upheavals around the corner. "If there was something close at hand, we certainly would have tried it by now," says Janne Marvaila, leader of the national ski jumping and Nordic combined teams. In some recent phases of the sport's history, there has been more emphasis on the length of each jump. However Marvaila believes that style points are regaining their importance, and that there is, in particular, a more precise evaluation of the way jumpers land. NEW APPROACH Starting on February 22, Sapporo, Japan, hosts the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, including men's ski jumping (women will be included for the first time in 2009). The annual World Cup is naturally important this year as always, but the biannual Championships add a flavour of their own to the season. In the run-up to the Sapporo games, the Finnish team is fine-tuning its capabilities, building on the solid base it has already established. "We had to do our main work last summer," says head coach Tommi Nikunen. "We're planning a slightly different approach to Sapporo than to previous world championships. We're going to try to take a break from training before the World Championships. Last year we realised it was a good idea to take one weekend off. Before Sapporo, we'll take a couple of weekends off." The brightest star of the Finnish jumping team is Janne Ahonen, a seasoned veteran at 29 years old. With five world championships under his belt two individual titles and three with the team Ahonen has also won the World Cup twice and central Europe's prestigious Four Hills Tournament no less than four times. Clearly Ahonen has plenty of experience in preparing for World Championship events, and he does not plan to make any 34 BLUE WINGS FEBRUARY 2007
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