Interest in World Cup ski jumping was a little higher than organizers expected this past weekend, and especially on Sunday when organizers were forced to turn spectators away.
Whistler Olympic Park director John Aalberg was amazed by the turnout and apologized to the people who did not get into the event.
"We parked 2,000 cars inside the venue in parking lots and along the roads, and we were full basically," he said. "It was very surprising, and positive in a lot of ways. We're estimating two to three spectators per car, plus buses, so we're guessing there were about 6,000 people inside the venue."
That's more than double the turnout for Saturday, and a bigger turnout than any day the previous weekend when the Olympic park hosted World Cup cross country and Nordic combined events.
For the people who did make it to the events, the last day saw the large hill record shattered three times. The jump was a 140 HS, with a K-line at 125 metres. Basically that means that ski jumpers had to fly 125 metres from the ramp to the landing on the K-line to get full distance points, and they could earn 0.8 points for every metre past the line they traveled. The bench on the top of the ramp is set by technical delegates based on factors like the speed of the snow and wind, with the goal of landing the average skier close to the K-line. Flying too far can be dangerous as the landing hill begins to flatten out after the 140 HS mark.
In the second round of jumping on Sunday five athletes beat the 140-metre mark, some by nearly 10 metres.
Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria took this second gold medal with jumps of 137.5 metres and 149 metres, which translates to 82.5 distance points in the first round and 103.2 distance points in round two. With judges' points, which were nearly perfect, he scored 293.2.
Teammate Thomas Morgenstern placed second with jumps of 140.5 metres and 141 metres, and a final score of 291.7. Ville Larinto of Finland was third with jumps of 137 metres and 149 metres, and a score of 272.3.
"It was a great athletes performance and the last three jumps were more exhilarating than anybody could have dreamed about, and set hill records," said Aalberg. "It was the best end to the Nordic Festival that we could have dreamed of, and the weather was a big part of that."
With a television audience in Europe of at least 20 million, the clear weather and sunshine made for spectacular backdrops with Powder Mountain and the Callaghan Valley in the background.
"It's gong to be phenomenal for us to get this kind of marketing for Whistler and the area in Europe, showing that we have such a beautiful place and that we can put on great events."
On the first day of competition the distances were shorter. Schlierenzauer showed why he's the best in the world with jumps of 142 metres and 139.5 metres. He was followed by Wolfgang Loitzl of Austria with jumps of 136.5 and 135.5, and Matt Hautamaeki of Finland with jumps of 136.5 and 135.5, but lower judged scores.
Canadians have not competed on the World Cup circuit this winter, opting instead to compete on the Continental Cup circuit. Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes earned a chance to compete on the first day with a strong qualifier. He finished 42nd with a jump of 109.5 metres. You need to place in the top-30 to get a second jump.
On the second day it was Stefan Read's turn, as he finished 41st with a jump of 111.5 metres.
Canadian jumpers look beyond 2010
Brent Morrice, chair of Ski Jumping Canada, is confident that Canada can qualify a full team of four athletes to compete at home in 2010.
"We will be on the World Cup next month, but we've been focusing on the Continental Cup because it's very good over in Europe and right now we're developing athletes," he said. "We want to qualify all four and hit our quota. Right now it's all based on points, if they don't get points then they don't get to go."
As the host nation, Canada is guaranteed at least one spot in every event, in which case the athlete with the best FIS points by the deadline will fill the spot.
While 2010 is important to the program, 2014 might be even more significant. With the addition of women's Ski Jumping he believes Canada will have a chance to win a medal.
"As soon as the women are in the Olympics, which they will be, we will have a winner (in ski jumping)," he said. "We have three girls finishing in the top-15 in the world, and a girl who just won a gold medal in Germany. The women's team is there, and they're ready. I was talking to a FIS delegate last night and they think 2014 is a good possibility."
Female members of different national teams, including Canadians, are suing the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the right to be included in the 2010 Games, citing a law against using federal money to build facilities that exclude other Canadians. For its part, VANOC says that the laws don't apply to the International Olympic Committee, which sanctions Olympic events.
Winning medals in the sport will draw more athletes into ski jumping, as well as draw more funding.
It will also help to keep the ski jumps at Whistler Olympic Park active.
Ski Jumping Canada and the Callaghan Valley Local Organizing Committee (CALOC) are looking at the possibility of building training jumps in Squamish to draw more athletes into the sport. Meanwhile the jumps at Canada Olympic Park will continue to be used.
"(The Calgary Olympic Development Association) has committed to the facility in Calgary, and right now we're at max. We're full, and can't get any more kids in," Morrice said.
As well as medals and training facilities, Morrice says they have to do more to make Canadians understand more about ski jumping and how it is scored.
"It's really just a matter of getting people out and watching the sport," he said. "Look at what happened in Calgary in '88, when we had 80,000 people watching. It was the biggest crowd for an outdoor sporting event in Canada, until they had that hockey game for Edmonton outdoors. It captures people. People want to see these guys flying through the air."
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