Volunteers at Tourist Information Center
Volunteers at Tourist Information Center

It’s very early in the Olympics, I was told. We need to be patient as they work out the glitches in the processes. Very wise words indeed, but it was still very frustrating to figure out the transportation system – the network of buses that are supposed to cart the thousands of spectators, officials, workers and volunteers around to the various venues.

I was told that it would take about 15 minutes to go from the Olympic Plaza where I was to the Alpensia Ski area where the Normal Hill Si Jump Qualifier event would take place at 9:30 pm. Thus I arrived at the appointed bus stop at 8:20 pm. I wanted to make sure I had time to pick up my ticket there and walk around the surroundings.

I was early and the actual location of the bus stop was unclear. Vague instructions and maps cycled through a slideshow on an electronic screen at the bus stop area. Questions to people standing around yielded shrugs. When a person in the volunteer uniform walked by, I grabbed them and asked, but very few could communicate in English, even fewer could explain where the bus to Alpensia was supposed to pick us up.

I had been given instructions to take Bus TW7 or 8 at the Tourist Information Center a few hours earlier. There was a lot of asking back and forth as they came to a consensus to my question – a fairly straightforward one I thought. You can see three people peering over a map trying to explain this to me. The English level capability of the volunteers was low, which I understand as English capability in bulk is going to be hard to find in countries in North Asia.

So in my scramble to find someone who could explain where I could pick up the TW7 or 8 bus, one told me that I had to walk about 10 minutes in a totally different direction. I started down that road for about 3 minutes until I realized that it contradicted the instructions I got at the Tourist Information Center. I went back, and realized there was a bigger crowd all waiting to go to the Alpensia Si Jumping venue.

I found one group of young bilinguals also waiting, and they mentioned that TW means Transportation for Workers or Volunteers. I wanted TS 7 or 8, which is Transportation for Spectators. And as we watched bus after empty bus pull up to our location and move on, the natives began to get restless. It was 8:45 pm and Koreans began yelling at anyone who appeared to have some affiliation with the organizers. That is why people in the volunteer uniforms began to steer clear of the crowd. I suspect that something a volunteer had told me in broken English about 15 minutes previously was that these buses weren’t running. But no one was there to state this explicitly.

The crowd moaned and groaned. No buses. Taxis were impossible to find. Families with crying kids, middle aged men who may have had a bit to drink, and elderly women alike were in a state of paralysis with no idea whom to talk to. And then suddenly the crowd began to move, so I followed along.

I wasn’t sure if they were leaving or not, so I peeled off when we came near the Olympic Stadium to see if there were any English-speaking officials or volunteers around, but I couldn’t find anybody. So I rushed back to find the crowd. And the thinning crowd eventually ended up about 200 meters away from the original spot – at a TM bus stop – Transportation for Media. Apparently when I had arrived, a bus had picked up the bulk of the spectators headed for Alpensia. But about 20 of us were left waiting. And waiting. And waiting. It was already 9:30. The competition had already begun. People were giving up. Finally, at 9:35, I gave up to and started walking back to my room.

And then people started rushing back. A bus had arrived. And it was heading to Alpensia! It was 9:40 and people were shouting for the bus driver to go. But he said the appointed time was 9:45. So we grinned and bore it.

We arrived at 10:00. It took about 10 minutes to get my ticket, go through security, walk to the seating area and finally settling into the bright light of a ski jump competition. Twenty minutes of it.

And it was fun!!!

The journey, however, wasn’t. Going home was also confusing, involving a long walk (30 minutes to the bus area) and another long walk after the bus stopped (30 minutes to my room.)

All up, the four hours since I left my room to when I get back, I spent only 20 minutes watching the competition.

But then, they say, it’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey….

Leaving Alpensia 2
The long march out of Alpensia to the bus stop.
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Alpensia Ski Jumping Venue !

The ski jumps tower in the distance, lords over the landing space where jumpers hope to slide gracefully into the open to loud applause.

Live, ski jumping is a difficult sport to watch – TV producers have developed ways to make the experience of the ski jumper up close and personal. From my relatively good seats, you can see the ski jumper prepare himself on the large screen that was to the left of the launching slopes. After that, since you’re in the cold arena with the ski jumpers, your eyes turn to the glaring whiteness of the slopes. It takes some getting used to, but eventually you get used to spying the tiny athlete, skis extended in V-formation, flying through the air.

Junshiro Kobayashi of Japan_Alpensia Ski Jump
Junshiro Kobayashi of Japan

Yes, you can see this far better on the TV, especially the large screen monsters we all have today. But seeing it live is to hear the raucous cheers of fans. Who else go to ski jumping competitions in the cold except ski jumpers, family members and friends, Olympic teammates?

And yet the people who were there, and it was a significant crowd for a qualifier for the Normal Hill ski jump competition at the Alpensia Ski Jumping venue, the day before the official start of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Lots of ooohs and ahhhs from the crowds as jumpers approached a visibly green line in the snow that I would assume indicated the best distance or qualifying distance of the event. (Forgive my ignorance, ski jumping fans!)

For some reason, there was a crowd of Korean women not far behind me who went wild for the Polish jumpers, waving the Polish flag and screaming when David Kubacki launched in the cool, night air.

Fifty ski jumpers qualified on February 8, 2018. They go once more into the fray on February 10, 2018.

Roy at Alpensia Si Jump Venue_Normal Hill Qualifier

Sochi Olympics Ski Jumping Men
Noriaki Kasai celebrates winning the silver medal Saturday after the ski jumping large hill final at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. | AP

Noriaki Kasai has qualified for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics as a member of Japan’s ski jump team. And in one respect, no one has ever flown higher. Kasai will participate in his eighth Winter Olympic Games. No one has ever done that.

There are actually 11 other Olympians who have participated in 8 or more Olympics, but they all have been participants in Summer Olympic competitions like equestrian, sailing, canoeing, rowing and shooting events. Tied with him at 7 Winter Olympiads was Albert Demtschenko from Russia, who could have joined Kasai as an 8th straight winter Olympian, but was banned for life from the Olympics in December, 2017 for doping.

That’s what happens when you put skill and longevity together. “Legend,” as Kasai is called in Japan, has not only won 2 silver medals and a bronze medal in the Olympics, he has two Guinness World Records for appearances in international ski jump events.

Most interestingly, he has been immortalized in a song called “Mr. Noriaki Kasai,” by the Finnish punk rock band, the Van Dammes.

That is indeed the stuff of legends.

Ski Jumper Sarah Hendrickson Takes Flight on the Sleeping Giant
Ski Jumper Sarah Hendrickson Takes Flight on the Sleeping Giant

To the untrained eye, ski jumping is essentially finding the courage to go screaming down a mountain on skis at 90 kilometers per hour with winter winds whipping your face, staring down the possibility of a crash of cataclysmic proportions. Think the opening of ABC’s Wide World of Sports program, and Jim McKay’s famous line “agony of defeat.”

To the trained eye, the ability to control your anxiety, launch into the air explosively, manipulate your body and skis into the most efficient aerodynamic form possible and maintain it, and of course, sticking the landing requires considerable preparation and training. The slightest variation to the optimal flying technique, and the wind will throw your body out of form with sometimes ugly ramifications.

Wikipedia was kind enough to map out the differences in ski jump technique over the years. To understand them visually, I identified video that represents that technique as closely as possible.

Kongsberger Technique: Named after the town – Kongsberg, Norway – in which this technique was created, “the technique was characterized by the athlete’s upper body being bent at the hip, with arms extended out front past the head and skis held parallel to each other. Sometimes the arms would be waved or ‘flapped’ around vigorously in a bird-like manner.” As you can see in the video below of ski jumping from the 1930s, there was definitely a lot of flapping of arms.

 

 

Windisch / Dascher Techniques: These two seem quite similar to me, at least the way they are described. The biggest distinction between them and the Kongsberger is that the arms and hands are no longer out front and moving, but instead are extended back towards the hips, and held still. In this video of ski jumping in the 1950s, you can see the ski jumpers are making the transition from Kongsberger to Windisch: half have their arms extended out front like Superman, which is the Kongsberger technique, with the other half with their hands back near their hips.

 

V-Style Technique: This is the style you see today, the skis no longer parallel. The ski tips, instead, or spread out in a “V” shape, creating more aerodynamic lift.

 

You can actually see the difference the V-Style technique makes in this mock up at the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum.