Raska and Belousov take ski jumping to new heights
The ski jumping at Grenoble in 1968 was a story of two men – Jiri Raska and Vladimir Belousov. Raska was from Czechoslovakia and had come to prominence in the two years before the Grenoble Games; Belousov was a Russian competing in his first Games. Between them, they set new standards in their sport.
The first contest was the normal hill. Raska had said, before the Olympic Games started, that he would be happy with fifth place, but the form guide suggested he would be a contender for a medal, even if most people were expecting victory to go to the Norwegian Bjorn Wirkola.
His first jump was outstanding, stretching some 79m and, when combined with the judges' scores, putting him in a comfortable lead. Wirkola's jump was only good enough for sixth position after the first round.
For Raska, it proved just as well that he had done so well first time – his second leap was a disappointment, landing more than six metres shorter and good enough for only eighth place in the round. But, when both jumps were taken into consideration, his total was strong enough to secure gold with Wirkola missing out on bronze in one of the surprises of the Games. Belousov had a poor first round but improved on the second phase to place eighth. He knew he would do better in the next battle.
The Big Hill now took on extra interest. Boosted by his gold medal performance, Raska was reported to be flying in his training jumps, and so became the favourite to secure a double triumph.
Few counted Belousov among his closest rivals, but theirs turned into a gripping duel. In the first round both men jumped beyond 100m, the first time that had happened at an Olympic Games. Belousov, though, went further by just 50cm to take the initial lead.
Just as in the normal hill contest, the second jumps were not as long. This time, Raska went 98m – and again Belousov landed 50cm further. He was to take gold by a margin of less than two points while the bronze medallist, Norway's Lars Grini, was a distant 15 points further behind.
Belousov would not return to Olympic competition, while Raska competed again in 1972 but without winning a medal. Both men, though, continued in ski jumping as coaches after finishing their own competitive careers.