If you look at photos of ski jumpers today and ski jumpers 50 years ago, you’ll notice one big difference.
In the past, athletes held their skis tight underneath their bodies in a parallel position. Keeping the body in a straight line like this was considered elegant and appealing. But more importantly, it was the position they used to gather as much distance as possible. This position made athletes thin and small, which allowed them to move forward through the air quickly. However, the parallel position didn’t do much to help them fight gravity.
In the 1980s, ski jumper Jan Boklov tested out a different ski position — one that resembled a V. He noticed that the V shape allowed him to fly farther.
That’s because, unlike the parallel position, the V position allows air to hit athletes’ bodies directly. Instead of only cutting through the air quickly, they’re using their body to catch air like a wing. This effect lifts athletes up, allowing them to stay airborne longer — and go farther. This small change revolutionized the sport, and since then, gold-medal winners have used the V style to make it to the podium.
- Learn more about Team USA Nordic
- Follow USA Nordic on Instagram and Twitter
- Great diagrams on the airflow of the ski jump
- 1995 paper referred to in the video, “Desirable Gliding Styles and Techniques in Ski Jumping”
- Smithsonian Science Education Center, “Falling with style: The science of ski jumping”
- Chicago Tribune, “Ski jumping 101: Aerodynamics key to success”
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