Holland flies with V, as in victory Ski jumper adapts to new technique

February 05, 1992|By Bill Glauber

Sometimes in sports, fundamentals change instantly, and everything learned through a career is suddenly about as up-to-date as a Model T.

Right is wrong, and wrong is right.

So here was Jim Holland of the United States preparing to make his Winter Olympics debut in ski jumping, and his craft was being turned upside down.

For 16 years, Holland was taught the traditional way to jump: skis straight and body extended forward. And then these Scandinavian teen-agers flew out of nowhere and pointed their skis and their sport in a new direction.

V for victory.

So Holland followed the lead of Finnish jumping prince Toni Niemen. He turned the tips of his skis out like a V. He floated like some football punt down a mountainside. And he transformed himself into a dark-horse contender for an Olympic medal.

"I talked to this one jumper, [two-time Olympian] Dennis McGrane, and he told me that he sat down one night and sketched the V," Holland said. "He said: 'I'll be damned. Connect the dots, and it's like a kite.' It just frees up your body so you get lift from your chest and the skis."

In America, a revolution in ski jumping is greeted with about as much interest as a technological breakthrough in growing grass.

But, in Europe, the sport is taken as seriously as a Super Bowl.

Tens of thousands of spectators line the slopes in Oberstdorf, Germany, Faulun, Sweden, and Lahti, Finland, to watch men launch themselves across an expanse of ice and snow the size of a football field.

"People are strange," Holland said. "Sixty thousand will show up to watch us jump in Europe. We'll get six people at the Olympic trials in America. I'm the best jumper in the country, and I don't even have a helmet sponsor. Over in Europe, even the forerunners who test the jumps have helmet sponsors."

But Holland is accustomed to performing in anonymity. He is 24, the youngest brother in a family that could be designated as America's official Olympic clan.

Raised in Norwich, Vt., across the river from the Dartmouth ski jump in Hanover, N.H., the Holland boys grew up jumping and racing.

Jeff made two Olympic appearances in ski jumping. Joe is a Nordic combined competitor who will compete in his second Olympics.

And Jim is strictly a jumper making his Olympic debut.

Holland said ski jumping isn't all it appears to be. The jumpers are rarely more than 12 feet off the ground, and the best competitors actually hit their takeoffs at slower speeds.

But, in the United States, the sport can't get away from the image of Yugoslavia's Vinko Bogataj, "the agony of defeat." He slid off a mountain and somersaulted into history on "ABC's Wide World of Sports."

"The 'agony of defeat' has really hurt ski jumping," Holland said. jTC "It has discouraged a lot of mothers from letting their kids jump. There are dangers in jumping. Bogataj was a guy who lost his nerve and said, 'Shoot, this is a big jump.' Now, he's famous."

When he isn't coming to America to appear at cocktail parties for ABC, Bogataj is on the jumping circuit as an official.

"When you go to Yugoslavia to jump, you're up there, the wind is blowing, and Bogataj is the starter," Holland said. The agony of defeat is staring at you."

Holland admires Bogataj, but he views Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards with disdain. At the 1988 Calgary Games, the English Eagle sputtered into last place and became a worldwide celebrity.

"We were a little embarrassed by Eddie," Holland said. "It sort of irritates me that he is just in it for the money now."

The Eagle, unable to meet minimum jumping standards, will be grounded in Albertville.

But Holland will be flying in France. He has used the new V style for six months, is ranked 10th overall on the World Cup circuit and gave himself a boost in the big-hill event with a second-place finish at Thunder Bay, Ontario.

"When everything is right, the sport is fun," he said. "You're not thinking about anything. You're on auto pilot. You jump and you let it ride."

Fly high in France, and Holland could give the sport a new image in America:

The thrill of victory.

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