The 'Who'll Take First?' Olympic sport of the week

The Winter Olympics are coming up soon, and they’re hosted in Vancouver. Everybody knows what speed skating and bobsled are, so it’s my goal to teach you something about the weird sports of the Winter Olympic games. Today’s sport: ski jumping.

Created in Norway by an army lieutenant in 1809 and included in the Winter Olympics since the first one in 1924, ski jumping is literally what it sounds like: The athlete skis down a long ramp, jumps off the ramp and lands as far as he can down a hill.

The scoring system is based on distance and style, though distance is heavily favored. There is a red line on the landing hill called the critical or K point, which is the average distance a jumper should travel. Distance points are awarded or deducted based on where a jumper lands in relation to the K point. Style points come into consideration when distances are similar, though bad landings can hurt a jumper even if the distance of the jump is exceptional.

There are two types of hills at Vancouver, the normal and large hill. You can probably figure out the difference.

There are four parts of a ski jumping run: the in-run, takeoff, flight, and landing. The in-run is the downhill portion of the run where the jumper tries to gain as much speed as possible in preparation for the next part, the takeoff.

The next three steps are pretty self-explanatory, though each comes with a specific set of body and ski positions designed to maximize aerodynamics and distance.

Important things to note are the ski positions during flight, which are optimally in a V-shape, and the landing, where the feet are required to land in the Telemark position, one in front of the other, or the skier gets penalized.

As far as historic medal count goes, it’s Norway, Finland and Austria, then everyone else. The three countries have combined for 70 of the 114 total medals and 24 of the 48 total golds.

The U.S. has only won one medal, a bronze in 1924, and Anders Haugen didn’t even receive it until 1974 due to a scoring error. He was also an import from Norway, so the United States isn’t exactly stacked in this competition.

Look out for the Austrian trio of Gregor Schlierenzauer, Wolfgang Loitzl, and Thomas Morgenstern, as they will likely take part in the team gold medal and may win individual honors among them.

Swiss Simon Ammann is ranked second in the world right now and took gold in the normal and large hill at Salt Lake City in 2002, becoming only the second jumper ever to earn two individual golds.

Finn Janne Ahonen is a five-time Olympian and has one the most storied ski jumping careers in Finland, though he has never earned a gold medal at the games. He retired in 2008, but Ahonen made a comeback and will be on the hill in Vancouver hoping to end his career with gold.

Finally, the creators of the sport hope to have a good showing in the great white north in February. Bjoern Einar Romoeron is ranked 6th right now and hopes to continue his pedigree performances. He holds the world record for distance, a staggering 780 ft. Ahonen jumped further in the same competition (790 ft.) but fell when he landed, so the run didn’t count.

The final rounds in the competitions are as follows: Feb. 13, at 12:45 P.M. Eastern Standard Time (EST), Individual Normal Hill Final, Feb. 20 at 1:00 P.M. EST, Individual Large Hill Final, and Feb. 22 at 2:20 P.M. EST, Team Final. As far as I can see, all events will be on NBC. However, check just to be sure.