How do they do it? The science behind Olympic ski jumping

    Flickr/Tortoise Productions

    Flickr/Tortoise Productions

    I have always watched the Olympics in amazement, awe-struck by the pure talent and skill the athletes boast on a continuous basis. The hard work and determination they put into their sport is beyond impressive and the reward of literally being the best at what you do must be the best feeling.

    I am a skier. I am also deathly afraid of heights, which leads me to the belief that ski jumping is the most amazing, daring and impressive winter Olympic sport there is.

    The way they fly down a hill at speeds topping 60 mph to launch through the air for longer than a football field astounds me. The way they contort their bodies so they are at a nearly 10-degree angle off their skies mystifies me. And don’t even get me started on how petrifying the landing would be.

    So, you can imagine my excitement yesterday when I caught a broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR) by Melissa Block, called “Scientist Talks the Formulae for Olympic Success,” which was entirely about the science behind ski jumping – which looks something like this:

    Vf = Vi + a*t
    d = Vi*t + a*t^2^

    Let me explain.

    According to physics professor John Eric Goff, author of “Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports,” the science starts at the top of the hill. The skiers take off with their arms behind them, bending at the waist, in order to minimize resistance; in other words, this form helps the skiers to be more aerodynamic. It also helps them reach their greatest speed, because after they leave the ground, there is nothing more they can do as far as gaining speed goes.

    When they launch into the air, they position their skis into a V-shape, which science has proven to increase their lift by about 30 percent. The skier also will lean down until they are almost touching their skis (the flexibility of a gymnast) in order to reduce the air drag they are fighting – again, aerodynamics.

    Then the scary part: the landing.

    The hill is sloped for a reason. Science says that the “crash” is less impactful if the skier lands on a slope that is sloping away from them. If the landing hill were completely flat, the force would push backwards so hard on the skier that it would literally break them (some part of them, at least). If the slope were facing toward the skier, well, that would be like running (rather, skiing) into a brick wall, obviously.

    If you want to learn more about the science behind ski jumping (or if you just want to watch a really amazing video) click here:

    Christina Chastain
    Marketing and Strategic Partnerships Coordinator


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