LILLEHAMMER, Norway – It is a rare chance for a human being to soar through the air unaided. It takes a matter of seconds from the moment a ski jumper lets go of the bar, to leaving the ramp and landing gracefully. During those seconds, USA athlete Logan Sankey does an awful lot of thinking.
The promising 17-year-old from Colorado has a personal best of 115 meters. She can clearly recall what went through her head when she recorded that jump in blustery conditions in Planica, Slovenia.
“I remember being a little scared because it was really windy that day. The wind hit me right over the knoll. I felt the wind pushing me up and further down the hill. I remember going way longer than I normally do. I was thinking ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, what am I doing?’” Sankey said.
Ski jumping is a sport where the tiniest of details can make a huge difference. You can break the world record one day and drop out of the competition the next if the details work against you.
“You need to be good at mental preparation because you only get six seconds to have an awesome jump,” Sankey said.
For Sankey the ability to recall her exact thoughts, and the effect they have on her jumps, is essential.
“We have sessions were we watch video and then sit down, close our eyes and practise jumping in our head. The coach goes through the jump - putting your bindings on, getting out on the bar and that is where it starts. You take a breath and describe each part of the jump in slow motion so you can focus on what you are doing,” Sankey said.
A ski jumper has a flight time of around five seconds. Before they pretend to be birds for a short spell they are bombarded with sounds and sensations.
“I hear the starter telling me to get on the bar, the other athletes talking and trying to get ready for their jumps. There is a ton of noise. You can actually hear a lot of sound from the bottom of the hill when you are at the top, which is kind of scary but also really exciting,” Sankey said.
“I have all those noises wash over me and take them in and then try to forget them and pretend like it is quiet.”
During the in-run, the jumper crouches down and adjusts their position and approach. The focus is entirely on the few seconds of high-speed motion ahead. As she leaves the kick-off she says her “three magic words of the day” and aims to make a perfect jump.
“The in-run goes by quickly and the flight seems to go slower, which is kind of crazy,” she said. “When you jump you just go floating through the air. It feels slower in the air because on the in-run you are trying to get small, your chest is close to your knees, and once you are in the air you try to open and catch all the wind.
“It feels almost as if you are floating and flying for a few seconds.”