There may be no one on the planet right now more suited to the task of peeling back the intricate layers of ski jumping than Maren Lundby. In the past two years the Norwegian has taken her discipline to a new level, crushing the opposition in the process of winning the Olympic and World Championship titles and finishing as the overall World Cup winner in both the past two seasons. It helps that she is also a great talker…
“There’s a lot that has to go right,” Maren Lundby, the world no.1 women’s ski jumper, said with a smile as she embarked on a detailed explanation of how she regularly flies more than 100m through freezing-cold air.
“It starts with the in-run where you have to get the right balance, which is really important. Then you have to have the right balance [going] into the take-off, where you have to push in a really technically correct position. Then you have to end up in an aerodynamic position.”
So far, so simple-sounding – if incredibly difficult to pull off. But it is at this point that Lundby reveals the kicker.
“You have to keep your speed and at the same time try to lift as much as possible from the take-off, so you are trying to do two opposite things at once, and you have to try not to leak any energy when doing it,” she said with a laugh. “You have to keep that energy and have it while in the air.
“And from there you have to try and stay as big as possible and have as much [uplift] as possible to fly on to try and get the furthest you can on the hill.”
Lundby knows what she is talking about. The Norwegian won nine times on the International Ski Federation World Cup circuit in 2017/18 and 13 times during 2018/19, and claimed three victories in the opening five events of 2019/20. With numbers like that, it was no surprise that she went into the 2019 World Championships as the firm favourite for individual gold. It was even less of a shock when she swiftly confirmed those predictions by winning the title.
But above and beyond even these accolades, Lundby secured her place in sporting folklore by claiming gold at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Having seen rivals Katharina Althaus (GER) and Sara Takanashi (JPN) both post huge efforts in the final round, the under-pressure pre-Games favourite produced the performance of the competition when it really mattered, leaping 110m to grab the glory.
According to the 25-year-old, it was all thanks to a relentlessly strict training programme.
“You really have to work on the details over and over again,” she said. “We have this exercise where we use a roller board and do imitation jumps so we can practise inside. It means you can do many more repetitions than is possible on the hill.
“Core strength is really important to keep your balance and stability. Also power in the legs is quite important for balance and for the vertical velocity you produce. So we do a bit of fast-twitch muscle training, a lot of strength training to have that power and force.
“Most of the training we do is quite fun, but of course the heavy lifting three times a week during the summer can be boring.”
I remember my first jump on the big hill when I was 13 years old. Of course [I had] a lot of butterflies. I was a bit scared but at the same time really excited, because it was what I wanted to do
Despite all the hard physical work, it is mental strength which Lundby feels marks the key difference between the best and the rest.
“You just have to be really focused in the moment,” she said. “In competitions it’s really important to have that focus and not get disturbed by other things. You have a really short moment of time to do your jump.
“I have done some mindfulness to help this. It’s good to be more aware of your thoughts and to find a focus and calm down.”
While fear is the overriding emotion that comes flooding into the mind when a mere mortal so much as looks at a ski jump, it is not something that Lundby has considered for a very long time.
Off we go💪🏼 pic.twitter.com/zdSt5b0I7v— Maren Lundby (@marenlundby) February 25, 2019
“I remember my first jump on the big hill when I was 13 years old. Of course [I had] a lot of butterflies. I was a bit scared but at the same time really excited, because it was what I wanted to do,” she said. “Now I have done it for over 20 years so I am used to it.”
Reading and indeed mastering the weather are other skills she has had to pick up over the past two decades. While she pointed out that it is ultimately the coaches in training and jury in competition who are the final arbiters as to whether the conditions are safe to jump in or not, Lundby is still the one who must put her limbs on the line. After all, it was -11 degrees Celsius with gusting winds when she won her maiden Olympic gold.
Next time out, in 2022, Lundby will have an additional Olympic medal to aim for, and she could not be happier about it.
“It’s great for us and also for the audience,” she said of the mixed team event which will make its Olympic debut at the Beijing 2022 Games. “People like to see men and women compete together. Of course, it’s important for the women that we have more exposure.
“And we are fighting for the big hill in the future. We always want to develop our sport and we are really happy when it happens. It shows our sport is growing.”