Archive for March, 2009

No fly in Vikersund!

Posted in Lindsey Van, Ski Flying, Ski Jumping on March 16, 2009 by Vanessa Pierce
vikersund-09-206So, yesterday we were suppose to go Sky Flying, the culmination of our sport, and the biggest honor as a ski jumper. We arrived at the hill psyched to be there, and you couldn’t have punched the grins off our faces. We received our start numbers, and it became real that we were going to fly. The chance of a life time right? Well it would be nice if it were that easy, but its never that easy as a woman in this sport.
We made it to the top of the hill in our suits with our start numbers, and we even brought our skis. It didn’t matter if I had gone naked because the chance was just a joke. The women had start numbers 12, 13, 18, 21, and 22. The first 11 jumpers went, and jumped quite far in the conditions. 220.5m, the longest jump in Norway ever, but it was by a test jumper. Apparently in our old fashioned sport it’s not cool that World Cup jumpers are the only ones reserved for these sort of jumps. The jury was unhappy that he jumped this far. I thought the idea of test jumpers was to test the new hill and to see how far the new hill allowed for jumpers to fly. This jury had a different idea, they just wanted people to be gentle with the hill, and not push it’s limits. It’s dangerous right? No, all the testers were here to fly as well, and see how far they could push themselves, and test the hill.
The training was stopped after these far jump. The jury had a long meeting, or at least a long discussion on what their answer would be for stopping. The conditions were perfect, everybody was safe, the hill was perfect, and there were still twenty test jumpers at the top of the hill. We waited anxiously for a decision, but the only answer we initially got was that training was over for the day and there would be no more jumps. We walked down grumbling at what we thought had happened. Later we found out the reasoning. This is backwards land, and decisions are made as if we were still stuck in the 1950’s. There were long jumps, and they knew the women were coming. The conditions were perfect so they suspected we would jump far as well. The head of the Ski Jumping Committee in FIS Walter Hofer had said he didn’t want any more jumps over 200m, and that the hill was not for ladies. His reasoning for these answers was that the World Cup jumpers would feel bad, and the competition wouldn’t be as interesting if the test jumpers, and the women were able to achieve these far distances. I feel that he made this decision, because he did not the women to jump far. If we would have jumped far, it would make the superstars look not so bright compared to a woman. How depressing for our sport that is trying to move forward is getting pushed back by a man who knows we are capable of those distances. Frustrating to the max. We take one step forward and two back. He ruined a great once in a life time experience for us. He embarrassed us and took everything we strive towards as Ski Jumping athletes right under our feet. We can do little at this point except grumble to the media, and to those who do support the women trying to have this great experience.

vikersund-09-1981All of the coaches and some officials gathered together to make a plan. They said that if the women were not able to be used as test jumpers, their boys were not going to be used either. A protest in a way that would make FIS squirm . If they had no test jumpers for their World Cup, they wouldn’t be able to have it. The coaches and officials said the women had qualified outright for these positions, and we were going to be used as any normal test jumper. Of course FIS has their own special plan for us with that answer. They said all could jump the next day, even the ones without the penis. Wow, what a concept huh? I knew exactly what they were going to do here. FIS would let us jump, but from such low speed you can’t even break the knoll. They made it so nobody could jump far, so their stars could shine the next day.

On Friday when we got to the hill again and got our bibs people were excited, but in a different way this time. We knew that FIS had its own plans for us. I was still excited to fly, since I hadn’t been in 5 years. When we got to the top I wasn’t surprised to see where the gate was placed. The speed was set so low that we had little or no chance to jump far. Ya, you can jump, but you will look dumb and embarrass yourself. How typical of FIS, just what they wanted. I jumped, and I jumped really short. Short enough that I didn’t even get to feel the hill. I had wished big doors opened and swallowed me as I came into land to save myself some embarrassment. This day I was able to do this twice in, which left such a bitter taste in my mouth about the state of women’s Ski Jumping. I feel my place, and I feel unwanted from FIS. Anettte Sagen had a really good jump and made it on the hill a bit, to 177m, so at least that showed we can jump far, but had it been the same conditions as the day before. Many of the women we capable of jumping over 200m. Wouldn’t want that FIS, women can jump over 200 too. After these two jumps I sat at the bottom for a while thinking about what more could have been done on my end, and I can’t do anything. If I get fired up at FIS, I will just see other repercussions later in a another situation. As an athlete you can only do so much before it comes back around to bite you in the ass. FIS has us caged in. If we didn’t jump then we look scared, and if we do jump we just look ridiculous. Who wins here? We won a little by getting off the hill when they said no, but we were not able to show them what we can do. FIS won more here, because they can show that we jumped short, and made us feel like idiots.

vikersund-09-187Overall the women are angry and stuck. Still stuck, and angry as usual. Every chance they give us they can take it away immediately, and have it swing in their favor. It is sad for our sport that needs to move forward. The governing body that is suppose to support this moving forward is stepping on our toes, and is giving us no wiggle room. It is all done to how they have planned it, and we are stuck in the middle. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t. It is very tiresome dealing with this. I am at the front of the sport pushing for these opportunities, and trying to make things happen. It is going so maddening slow. I feel the level of the women is high enough for better opportunities, but we cannot show them. Trying to push this sport is draining. We push so hard for nothing. We have to fight so hard for every little chance we have, and there are very few.

What can we do at this point? Hmm? That is the question. I suppose we have to keep going at a snails pace, and keep fighting, or nobody will. That is what they want for us. To all give up and move on, but that’s not going to happen. People will be fighting back harder than ever, and they better watch out, because we are not giving up.

Japan and Flying to Come

Posted in Ski Jumping on March 11, 2009 by Vanessa Pierce

2606_60012191433_543076433_2031630_6533972_nI came home from Japan yesterday, I think. While I am writing this I am on a plane to Norway, so it’s hard to decipher the time and day at this point. I don’t know which day it is, so I just decided to sleep when I feel tired. I hope it works out. At this point I feel like used chewing gum and a permanent fixture on these international flights, not to mention a zombie wondering through airport after airport. I just woke up on the plane and forgot which direction I was heading and to what airport as my destination. Took me a few seconds to realize I am headed east to London’s Heathrow airport. Damn, I hate that airport, so confusing. I am on my way to Vikersund, Norway, to go Ski Flying. My one experience Ski Flying was my best experience Ski Jumping in my life, so I am eager to fly again.

Japan was a great solo trip. I went to attend the last four Continental Cups of the season. Two were held in Zao on the main island, and two were held on the northern island of Hokkiado in Sapporo. In Zao, we stayed in a very traditional Japanese hotel where you sleep on mats on the ground, and the hotel has no normal furniture. It’s quite different from the cultures of Europe that I have been accustomed to. I appreciate the culture there, and love the food. The food is traditional, so yes we had rice for breakfast and all other meals. Chop sticks are the means of transporting the food, and you can’t find utensils. I ate a lot of salad, noodles, and much other unknowns that I mostly enjoyed. That hotel in Zao was on the ski mountain. It was very entertaining to watch the skiers and boarders make their way past my window seemingly going all about the same speed. I was jealous and wanted to ski, but didn’t have the time.

2606_60012221433_543076433_2031635_5749312_nThe jump in Zao is one of my favorites because I am able to find good rhythm and that makes a good jump much more attainable. I felt like I had pretty standard jumps here, and I was happy with most of them. The competitions were hard because the wind is so unpredictable. I didn’t feel like the luck was on my side, but I was satisfied with the jumps themselves. In the first comp I placed 5th. Not my favorite place, but I’ll take what I can get. The second comp was a bit better with the luck and the jumps, and I placed third. Don’t have much too say about it, because honestly it has all started to run together, and nothing really sticks out in my mind. What stuck out in my mind was the retirement of one of my competitors. Izumi Yamada 31, is retiring from professional Ski Jumping after 10 years of competing internationally. I have been around for all 10 years with Izumi, and it will be different without her. She took her final jump here, and we all showered her with flowers. This was emotional for me because she had become a face that I knew I would see at every comp. I cried and gave her a few big hugs. I tried to tell her that she will be missed and the last 10 years competing with her were great, but who knows how much made it through the translation barrier.

We traveled up to Sapporo by bus and plane. Sapporo is a city of almost 2 million with deep roots in Ski Jumping. It was cool to be in a city in Japan and check out more of the culture. The jumps there were prepared perfectly, and it’s also another hill I really enjoy. Training was the only day that the wind was fair at all, but that’s typical for a training day. Both comp days were typhoon and monsoon like with heavy unpredictable winds. I didn’t feel like luck was on my side here either, but that is how Ski Jumping goes. In the first competition in Sapporo, I jumped 77m, and then 97.5m. This just shows you the randomness of the winds, and what can happen. I placed 5th in this comp. The second comp was much of the same and jumps of 89.5m and 76m didn’t really help me out and I placed 4th. Oh well I guess my turn wasn’t up, but I was content with my jumps technically.

Overall, Japan was a fun trip. It was all packed in pretty tight, so we didn’t have too much time to check much out. I love the food, the culture, and the people (mostly because we are the same size). It is one of my favorite places to travel and I hope I can make more trips there in the future, but I want luck on my side next time. Overall, in the Continental Cup standings I ended 4th. I was shooting for 1st, but it didn’t happen. I was excited to see how competitive it was until the last competition. The top five were battling until the very end, which is not the same in every sport. Anette Sagen won the overall, followed by Daniela Iraschko in 2nd, and Ulrike Grassler in 3rd. I look forward to begin a new battle next year with these women.

2582_60877006433_543076433_2049454_529925_nAs of now I am headed to Vikersund, Norway, to be a test jumper for the Ski Flying World Cup. Ski Flying is the biggest hill in the world and is a 185m hill, and there are only five of them in the world. There are few chances to Ski Fly especially for women. This is only my second chance in 5 years, so I decided to make it happen. Can’t pass a chance like this up, and I don’t think any ski jumper in their right mind would. Ski Flying in the pinnacle of any Ski Jumpers career, and many may never get the chance. Until this point, only six women have ever flown. I am one of those lucky ones, and set the North American women’s record of 171m in 2004. I am going here with five other women. Anette Sagen, Helena Olsson Smeby, and Line Jahr have all been before, but the rookie this year is Jessica Jerome from USA. I hope she has a great experience and flies far. I am here to break my record and try and jump over 200m. The only women to have made it to this mark is Daniela Iraschko who set the world record of 200m in 2003. I hope all the women have a great time flying, and records are broken.

Medalists react to women’s ski jumping first World Championships

Posted in Ski Jumping on March 3, 2009 by Vanessa Pierce

GEPA-20020974073America’s Lindsey Van (1st place): So it has been a little over a week since I won the World Championships. I think it is starting to set in, but I have been so busy that it is hard to tell. I went home for four days, which was awesome. I missed home a lot after being in the E block for three weeks. Not my favorite place in the world, and the food sucked. It snowed the whole time, so I was ready to see the sun again. My body was drained—so tired physically and mentally. It was hard to digest anything that had happened. I had barely enough energy to make it home. Everything felt so difficult to do, and I felt like I weighed 100kg. I did have a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, which allowed for some relaxation of the mind and body. With my body refueled and re-energized. I was able to think a bit more clearly about what had just happened. I had to watch the video to refresh my memory of the feelings I was experiencing at the time.

I remember my second jump and the sense of relief coming over the knoll—I finally had a good jump. On that jump, I was focused on my inrun position because I know that is the base. I got off the bar and realized my goggles were fogged in the upper 25% of the lens. This is the only part of the lens I look through in the inrun. I recall it not phasing me too much. I knew the feelings I was looking for and tried to focus on those. Coming through the radius I was able to feel the pressure of the curve on my foot. I knew when it released, I just had to move—more of a muscle memory thing than a conscious decision. Coming over the knoll, I knew this was going to be a good jump and I just had to relax and let it fly. I landed in a telemark, and immediately felt a rush. It was a rush like I had never felt before. It was fast and overtook my body before I had any idea what was going on. Without even thinking, I threw my arms up in celebration. At this point I felt like a kid jumping up and down in excitement, and wasn’t thinking of any of my surroundings. I celebrated in a haze for a few seconds and then began to realize where I was and what I was doing. For those few seconds I was alone in my own happiness, and it poured out. When I looked at the scoreboard, I saw the distance of my jump of 97.5m. I knew this was a good jump with good scores and would be hard to beat, but there were still three competitors left at the top of the hill. I was psyched and continued to act like a child. I had a grin on my face that could only be placed there by pure enjoyment and happiness.

I anxiously awaited the next three jumpers. Honestly, I don’t remember much of this time. It is all a blur. I don’t know if it happened fast or slow, but I remember being in total amazement as I looked at the scoreboard. Each time a jumper went I saw my name at the top of the list. After Ulrike jumped, it seemed as the scores came up in slow motion. Next to her name I saw 2nd, which meant that I won. Another rush, and I began to shake. I had been shaking the whole time, but now it had become more intense. I celebrated more without even knowing what I was doing. My body took over as my mind went somewhere else. It was a surprise to me. I knew it was possible, but I had tried not to think of this point in case it didn’t happen. I thought I would have been more consciously aware, but I went to lala land. I had to come back as they put the World Champion bib on me. As they did this, I suddenly heard more noise all around me, and I put up my arms again. Sagen gave me a huge hug and said “you f**king did it, you are the world champion.” Hearing this from one of my best friends and fiercest competitors was awesome. She had a bronze medal and looked truly happy. It was awesome to share this moment with her, and we were really happy for each other. At the same time there was a sense of relief knowing we had worked so hard together in the sport for this moment, and it was finally over. As we paraded around the outrun, I waved about an American flag. I was honored to have it, and so many emotions were running through my blood. I was looking at all my competitors, our American fan base, my team, coaches, and tried to take it all in. I posed for pictures, hugged everybody and tried to recall what had just happened. We did the flower ceremony at the hill. I remember looking at my longtime coach Larry Stone and seeing the joy on his face, and some tears in his eyes. He had been coaching me since I was 9, so it meant a lot for me to have him there at that moment. I saw my U.S. Ski Team Coach Kjell also looking like a little kid who couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. He just kept nodding at me and pointing. I went around the crowd and picked out the faces I knew. I felt this connection to so many of them, and wanted to share this moment with all of them. I was proud I could do this for my country, my team, and especially my sport. The energy I was receiving from the crowd was so intense and empowering. I felt some tears coming, but they never came. I think I was smiling too hard, which blocked off the tear ducts.

GEPA-20020979006

After the ceremony. the media circus began. I also don’t remember too much of this. I recall shuffling from one camera to the next, and not being able to make much sense of anything. Many of the questions were the same, and I just kept saying how happy I was for this moment and the sport. I must have been shuffled around for an hour or so. Finally I was able to have contact with all those familiar faces. It was an emotional roller coaster with each of them. Each person reminded me of something special and different. I shared many things with these people, but was able to share this experience with all of them. It has been a long road to this point, and so many people had supported me throughout. The energy I felt from these people was like nothing I had ever experienced, and it lit a flame within my heart. When I had five minutes alone in the shower I tried to let it sink it, but it wasn’t happening. Still there was too much chaos in my mind for me to focus on what had happened. I was satisfied, and I knew that. I went on the Internet to check my email and Facebook. I had many positive and supportive messages from people from all over the world. Apparently people had been paying some attention to the sport, and that is what I was hoping for. I was more content knowing the sport was getting recognition instead of an individual athlete. That is the part that hit me the most, knowing that this historical event was watched, and this event put women’s ski jumping on the map. It felt like people had finally realized that we existed and our sport didn’t start yesterday. This was a big win for all the women who had worked so hard to get recognition for the sport over the last 15 years. The athletes had to work together for this, and it felt more like a family and not as competitive. It was great for our team, all the ladies who had made it this far, and the sport itself can now move one step forward. At the medals ceremony it was much of the same emotional roller coaster. I was able to talk more with the other athletes about what we had just done. It was a great sense on relief for all of us, and now it was time to celebrate. As I stood on the podium, I felt so happy and proud that I could be standing at the top. It’s something you dream of, but it unravels differently than the dream—this time it was real. GEPA-20020979031While listening to the national anthem, I was looking around the crowd to see all the faces—faces of support, satisfaction, and joy for the sport. I felt like I was going to cry, because I saw others cry. I was too happy to cry, the tears just never came. Sagen, Ulrike, and I posed for pictures with our medals and trophies together, all of us still in amazement, and we tried to enjoy the moment. So many emotions were coming and going and I was trying to hang on to each and every one of them. It was a high that I had never experienced, and I will never forget.

Germany’s Ulrike Graessler (2nd place): During the first official training, I was a little bit nervous. I was mostly nervous about what people would think about women’s ski jumping as a whole since a 12-year-old Czech girl fell bad that day so training was canceled. On Wednesday, I was happy that we got an official jump after waiting such a long time because of weather. I feel that it is very hard to get on the podium, because the conditions are changing all time and it’s difficult to say who is getting the best conditions. On Thursday, during the last official training I was not so good. The jumps themselves were good, but not the results. I was in the top 6, but never in the top 3, and I thinking, “Oh shit.” My coaches told me that I can do this, and it’s possible, but tomorrow is a new day, and anything can happen. I was very nervous, but as soon as I sat on the bar in the first round it was all normal and I had tunnel vision. I didn’t feel the pressure in the first round. After the jump, I felt it was my best jump, and I saw that I was first by 8 points, but I didn’t expect it. Then I think, “Oh no, I am first after the 1st round,” so I was a bit more nervous for the 2nd round. My mother was so nervous that she couldn’t watch. My mother told me she cried, because she knew what I had to do in the 2nd round. I sat on the bar again, but I couldn’t hear the distance of the jumpers before. I was happy not to hear this, because it would have made me more nervous. I sat on the bar waiting three or four seconds for the green light, and I thought nothing about what was happening. As I landed, I was pretty sure that it was far enough for a medal, but was hoping it was enough for the win. I was 2nd and I was very happy for that, but as soon as that happened the media was all over. I was looking for Anette and Lindsey, but I couldn’t find them to congratulate them. I remember interview, interview, interview the whole time, and I just wanted to go and see my parents. The flower ceremony went fast like a movie. It was strange, but I felt happy. I was very happy with the competition, because I won a silver medal, although the media was asking if I was unhappy because I lost the gold. “I am happy because I have two good jumps, and that is the best that I can do this day.” I was the first that won a silver medal for Germany. It was important for me because we only have one chance, and the other sports have many more chances for medals. It was hard for me to realize that these were the first medals for our sport. It still hasn’t hit me, but I hope this medal is important to our federation and our sport. It was great to see Anette and Lindsey coming away with medals. These two and I have worked hard to put women’s ski jumping on the map. I felt relieved that it was these three on the podium and we could share this experience together.

GEPA-20020974082Norway’s Anette Sagen (3rd place): The entire day was going so fast, and I was in a rush until I landed after the 2nd jump. I looked up at the scoreboard and I realized I was No. 2 after the 2nd round, and I realized I would be on the podium. I looked up once more and saw that Lindsey was before me, and then I went out to meet my media people in the exit gate, and I shake Lindsey’s hand briefly and start on some interviews. I stopped to watch Ulrike jump, and saw that Lindsey won. My first thought was “Lindsey did it, she f**ing won, she is the World Champion.” And then I took the bronze medal!!! I start jumping around and suddenly I found Lindsey and started jumping around with her and congratulating her. From then on until the flower ceremony, it was all a blur and I have no idea what I said at the time. I know that NRK put a microphone on me for the flower ceremony, and later I became aware that I said “Good f**king job Lindsey” and so they translated it and played it over and over again. During the ceremony, I felt we were all sharing this equally and all our competitors were cheering for us, which was an amazing feeling. After the ceremony, it was so busy. We had to take pictures with the medals even though we hadn’t gotten them yet. We were rushed off to a press conference and doping control. All of that went by in one breath and it was all over! It was fun, amazing, and totally exhausting, but when I got back to my room I laid down in my bed and almost immediately fell asleep. When I woke up, I almost forgot about the entire World Championship, and then the Norwegian media guy came into the room and reminded me of a few more interviews to be done. I remembered it all, and if possible, was even more happy than I was before. It was time for the medal ceremony in the medal plaza in Liberec. For me it was just special to show up some place to receive a medal with the other girls getting medals—it was a big moment. I was the 1st one to go on the podium and it felt so huge for me, to go up that step and receive the applause from all those people. It made me feel really special, special in a good way. It felt also very special for me to see the other two girls get their medals, and to hear the American national anthem that I know so well. I can actually whistle it. We watched the flags of the podium go up and the fireworks, and there was a lot of media taking account of the moment and we all felt like superstars. Luckily that passes, and we realize that we are all just human beings. Today, over a week after the World Championships, being in Japan, and seeing they have over 20 women participating in the 21st Yamagata Games makes me realize our battle hasn’t been forgotten. They are participating over 20 women from Japan this week, and only 11 girls outside of Japan are taking part in this competition. However, we have come a long way since our beginning and we can make it together!


Off to Japan

Posted in Ski Jumping on March 1, 2009 by Vanessa Pierce

NORDIC-SKIING/WORLDLindsey Van is off to Japan to finish up the Continental Cup tour. With four more competitions, she is sitting in second place behind Norway’s Anette Sagen. “I know exactly what I am here to do, and I’m going to do it,” she says. The race for the overall is tight with the top four athletes within 100 points of first place. Van is determined to show the world that women’s ski jumping is fiercely competitive and the world should take notice.

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