No snow, no problem: Canadian team deals with the heat, hits the track for summer ski jumping

EDMONTON — Helmeted, goggled and swathed in thick, sweat-soaked laminated body suits, they will slide down a ceramic track on wide skis, fling themselves off the lip of a jump, land on wet green plastic and ease to a halt on an expanse of grass.

All to the delight of spectators who have the good sense to wear short pants. It is August, after all, and there won’t be a snowflake on the ground.

Though it surely sounds odd to Canadians, ski jumping is a staple of the summer sports scene in several countries. From July to October, there are Grand Prix events in Austria, Germany, Russia, Poland, Japan, the Czech Republic and Courchevel, France, where eight members of Canada’s national ski jumping team will compete on Aug. 11 and 12.

Organizers there build a festival around the competition. At Calgary Olympic Park, where the Canadian team trains all year, it’s less fun and more sweat in the summer.

“I hate summer jumping. It’s way too hot,” chuckled 21-year-old Taylor Henrich, Canada’s highest-ranked female jumper at No. 33 in the world. “I’d rather be on a beach, in the water. But it’s my job. It has to be done.”

Between now and the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in February, there are 18 Grand Prix and World Cup events for men, 10 for women, at which they make two jumps apiece. But they also will have made 600 training jumps by then, 90 per cent in summer, according to national team head coach Gregor Linsig.

Henrich can offset her expenses with $18,000 in Sport Canada carding money. Lorraine Hjalte/Postmedia Network

Much has changed from 10 years ago when national teamers did 10 jumps per practice session, twice daily, said Linsig. It was quantity at the expense of quality, so they cut back to an average of six jumps per day, mindful of fatigue, especially in summer.

“The suits are kind of like sponges. Once they get wet (with sweat), they get waterlogged and they’re super heavy,” said Linsig. “That’s the only bummer about jumping in the summer time: the heat.”

Well, that and the expense. Eight national team members left Calgary Aug. 1 on a three-week trip encompassing a training camp in Switzerland and Grand Prix events in Courchevel and the Czech Republic. It will cost each athlete about $4,000, and their total outlay for the season could be as much as $25,000, depending on the number of events they attend.

Based on major international results, Own The Podium cut funding for ski jumping from $788,000 in the Sochi quadrennial to $50,000 in the run-up to PyeongChang. That means Ski Jumping Canada cannot pay for all athlete expenses. But chair Tom Reid said he fully supports OTP’s approach, “which boils down to pay for performance.”

Henrich can offset her expenses with $18,000 in Sport Canada carding money; five other team members get $10,800 each this season. Henrich also has corporate sponsors and works a part-time job at Glengarry Bison farm near Airdrie.

Teammate Atsuko Tanaka, 25, doesn’t receive carding money this season. She works part-time at Sport Chek and the company is also her only corporate sponsor. Her parents, Sachiko and Shinya, who own Roku, a fine sushi restaurant in Calgary, are big supporters, financially and otherwise.

“I barely make four grand a year working part time at Sport Chek, and it’s going to cost me that much to go on a 20-day trip,” said Tanaka. “It’s really hard, but I’m managing for now.”

Linsig has empathy for the jumpers’ financial struggles.

Atsuko Tanaka, pictured at the 2014 Olympics, doesn’t receive carding money this season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

“I get the position those athletes are in and I feel horrible for them. That’s why it’s important to get the (Grand Prix) points now.”

Placement points at Grand Prix and World Cup events will help determine Canada’s Olympic team. Though nothing is official, Linsig said Henrich has essentially locked up a spot, while Tanaka has more work to do.

Both competed in Sochi in 2014, as women’s ski jumping made its Games debut. Tanaka was 12th, Henrich 13th in a field of 30. The top Canadian male jumper in Sochi was Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes, who should also be on the team in PyeongChang.

Henrich reached a peak of fifth at the 2015 world championships, but she and Tanaka had off years in 2016, and both are considering retirement to pursue education after this season.

“I honestly think Taylor is one of the best ski jumpers in the world for women,” said Linsig. “When she’s jumping well, Taylor has the ability to be on the podium, no problem. Is she there now? No. For Atsuko, she’s right on the bubble, so she needs to pull her socks up and perform a little bit better in these major events so she can also make sure her spot is solidified.”

A gaggle of Calgary youngsters is coming up behind the veterans — Natasha Bodnarchuk, 19; Natalie Eilers, 18; Nicole Maurer, 17; and 16-year-old Abigail Strate — but there is room for only four Canadian women and four men in PyeongChang.

“For the rookies, here’s your test,” Linsig said of the summer competitions. “You want to go to the Olympics? Let’s see what you can do.”


For too long, it seemed life and sport was conspiring against Atsuko Tanaka’s physical and mental health.

The Calgary-born ski jumper was rehabbing her way back from two knee surgeries, the last in July 2014, and it seemed the 2015 world championships were a possibility. But a car accident in November 2014 threw her for a loop. She and a friend were waiting at a red light, and were rear-ended.

“I suffered a pretty bad concussion and bad back pain. The concussion kept me out a few months. I couldn’t train at all. That car accident kind of pushed me back a lot. I wasn’t able to compete that winter at all.”

She also had to redo all the rehab work she had already done.

“A couple months after the accident, when I was able to train again, I wanted to be training and to get better, but in my mind it was more, ‘Why does this keep happening to me?’ I think that pushed me into depression a little bit.”

She believes lingering depression contributed to her poor competition results last season, but she has sought professional help and is feeling better physically and mentally.

The 25-year-old nevertheless plans to retire in 2018, hopefully after a second trip to the Olympics, to resume studies in kinesiology.

“I think it’s time to wrap it up but I owe it to my parents to try for one more Olympics. I just want to be able to put a smile on my mom’s face one more time.”

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.