"Wearing my best suit can make a difference of 40 metres in how far I jump." According to Ahonen, this does affect results. "The size and tightness of every part of the suit is specified down to the centimetre. For me, wearing my best suit, or my worst one can make a difference of 40 metres in how far I jump." Ahonen does not simply take a suit out of the manufacturer's package, put it on and head for the jumping tower. Instead he gets out a needle and thread and puts the finishing touches on the outfit himself. "That's how I ensure that the suit fits right. If it's too loose around the waist, the legs or anywhere else, I could be disqualified. I want to make sure and make any changes myself so that I don't get knocked out of a competition," Ahonen says. SUPER COMPETITORS AND SUPERSTITIONS Finnish ski jumpers are mostly on their own as they prepare mentally for the World Championships. Ahonen says that the extra metres that mean winning or losing can often be found in each competitor's mind. "There isn't any guided mental training program. Competing is actually the best way to prepare and train. When all the top guys are in top condition and have the right equipment, then it's what is between your ears that makes the difference in a tough spot," he says. Head coach Nikunen says he sees no reason for the ski jumping team to go through any kind of mental preparation as a group. "Each one is an individual and each one's head requires individual care," he says. "If you compare Janne Ahonen and [Olympic silver medallist] Matti Hautamäki, for instance, Janne enjoys spending time with his family whereas Matti prefers to concentrate through discipline and hard work." If you have watched the sport on television, you may have noticed how the competitors prepare to begin their slide down the big hill. While waiting to take off, some adjust the zipper of their suit while others fiddle with their goggles each with a personal ritual. "I have so many rituals that I don't even remember them all, I couldn't tell you what they are. I just do them automatically and sometimes I'm surprised when I notice myself doing something again. Everybody has their own things, starting from which order you put your ski boots on or which ski you attach first," Ahonen says. While waiting for their turns in the tower, each concentrates on himself, but you can sometimes notice subtle mental warfare up there, too, says Ahonen. "You're focusing on your own performance; that's the most important thing. But sometimes if there's an appropriate moment you might glance at your rival with a wink in your eye," says Ahonen with a chuckle. Finnair is a sponsor of the Finnish ski jumping team. The city of snow SAPPORO is the fifth largest and youngest of Japan's major cities. It was established in the 1860s and is now most famous for the February Snow Festival (February 6-12, 2007), where ice and snow artists gather from all over the world to build massive sculptures in Odori Park. The artworks are lit up daily until midnight and form an impressive sight. Sapporo is also a great place to shop, dine and entertain. Local restaurants offer great ramen, thin noodles served in a soup with various toppings. The city is very easy to navigate and has a North American-style grid street system. TOP 3 SIGHTS and pachinko (a mixture of slot machine and pinball) parlours. 2. Sapporo Beer Museum houses a beer garden and museum of one of Japan's oldest and most popular beer factories, Sapporo Breweries. 3. A great view of the city can be obtained from Mount Moiwa, one of the several forested mountains surrounding the city. Sapporo's only streetcar line leaves from Susukino to the lower station of the Mount Moiwa Ropeway, which goes to the top. Sapporo can be reached by train from Tokyo, Osaka or Nagoya; Finnair flies directly to all three cities. Sapporo will be even easier to reach from Europe when Japan Airlines joins the oneworld alliance this summer, adding Sapporo to the list of oneworld destinations. FEBRUARY 2007 BLUE WINGS 37 1. Susukino is the city's large entertainment district. It is packed with stores, bars, restaurants, karaoke shops
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