The big picture
Karl Geiger explains why ski jumping is so much more than just flying high.
As the year comes to an end, the ski jumping world rises for its annual highlight: the legendary Four Hills Tournament. Of course, Karl Geiger, 5x world champion, 3x Olympic medal winner—and for years one of the defining figures of the ski jumping community—is also part of the party.
Turbulence at season start
The first jumps of the season were quite turbulent for Karl: At the World Cup opener in Wisla, Poland, he missed the final. In Ruka (Finland) he finished sixth, in Titisee-Neustadt he even made it to the podium in third place. In the first jumping event in Engelberg he finished 22nd, but then in the second event he showed two strong jumps which brought him to 10th place—despite the loss of points due to a fall.
»As a ski jumper, you have to keep reinventing yourself.«
Karl, at which form level would you consider yourself right now?
"Hard to say! The World Cup opener in Wisla didn't work out as planned at all, in Titisee I was able to show what is possible at the moment. My level is not stable, I have deficits to work on."
Why is it so difficult, even as an "old hand" with 29 years, to be at the start on point?
"Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Ski jumping is about a multitude of details. And they change year after year. Maybe the jumping power is different, maybe the agility has changed and other forces are at work. The idea of a good jump from the previous year doesn't necessarily work anymore. As a ski jumper, you have to keep reinventing yourself."
What details do you have to pay attention to?
"It's about small differences that may have a big impact. Ski jumping is a technical sport where you have to react in split seconds. The motion sequence has to be extremely clean and precise. And a mistake in the approach carries through the entire attempt, into the jump and into the flight. Then all of a sudden ten meters are gone ... and you wonder what happened."
Gliding to success
To understand how complicated ski jumping really is, the in-run position serves as a good example. It's not as if the athletes get up from the bar and then just go down the hill. Even here, in the crouch, the finest details are important in order to be able to start into an optimal flight phase at the table.
»Then you get brave, maybe too brave ... and suddenly you're too early.«
What to look for while doing the in-run crouch?
"Important factors are how you set the angles of the knee and hip, how low you bring the body and how the center of gravity behaves. Each ramp has its own radius, its own compression in the approach. You have to adapt the balance of your body to each ramp, take the momentum from the radius in the best way possible, to arrive at the take-off in a perfect position.
And if it doesn't fit?
"It's possible that you don't even notice it at first. Maybe the crouch feels right, but you're sitting minimally too far back and therefore miss the ideal jump. From the perfect crouch to the wrong balance, it's just nuances."
And it's all about centimeters?
"Absolutely. You can make it clear very well on the take-off. If you're too late, you try to jump off earlier and readjust. If it was a meter too late at the beginning, it's only 90 centimeters on the next jump, then 80, 70, 60 ... until you hit it optimally. Then you get brave. Maybe too brave. Suddenly you're too early, and the jump doesn't work anymore."
Analyze. And visualize.
It's about technique. And it's a lot about feeling. If that doesn't fit, you don't really get into flying. Instead, you quickly start to think. Especially when things are going well for the others. Now it's time to analyze your own jumps together with your coaches, teammates and support staff and draw the right conclusions.
»If you feel that ... you're ready to fly.«
How frustrating is it to jump behind?
"It's not fun, but it's part of the sport. You have to go for it and work at it. It's tough at times. But you can also jump very far again quickly if the right decisions work together."
How many details do you have to think about before a jump?
"It depends. When things are going well, I might only pay explicit attention to two particular things. But it can also be seven or eight points that I want to target very specifically. I then visualize my jump all the more intensively when I'm standing at the top of the hill. There are days when twice is enough. On others, I go through the sequences 10 to 15 times in my head before I feel that I'm ready."
In the end, what is the recipe for success?
"For me, it's important that I have a clear idea of my jump and that I'm convinced it will deliver. Ski jumping is all about the big picture. A good jump is a holistic picture, all the components are linked together in one feeling. When you feel that, then you are ready to unleash your jump ... and fly far."
One tournament. Four chances.
So let's move on to the Four Hills Tournament, which could also be called the "Four Chances Tournament" because the four hills are so different and therefore always offer new opportunities to jump far. We asked Karl Geiger to characterize the four famous jumping hills in Germany and Austria for us:
"Remarkably unremarkable! No special radius, no special flight curve, nothing really distinctive. A hill that has no decisive crux for me. That makes it beautifully harmonious. But difficult at the same time, because somehow everything has to fit together."
"Quite striking! This hill has a relatively tight radius compression with a little punch. The challenge is to catch the transition perfectly and transport the momentum from the radius extremely well into the flight."
"The ultimate benchmark! On a hill at the Brenner Pass, very sensitive to wind and weather and therefore sometimes unpredictable. In addition, there is a bend in the radius with quite a bit of compression. To be far enough ahead at the take-off, you need an offensive crouch in the approach. If it's too offensive, though, the compression can push you too far back."
"The flattest in-run in the world! Long approach, not fast, no big radius compression. The first attempts you are sometimes too early at the take-off, because you think that it must finally start. You delay the take-off, and suddenly you are too late. However, if you hit it perfectly, it can go very far, it's a nice ramp for gliders."
The future ahead
On December 29, 2020, Karl Geiger won the opening event of the 69th Four Hills Tournament on his home hill in Oberstdorf. Perhaps this year he will also make it onto the podium—or even all the way to the top?
But, despite all his sporting ambitions, it is also important for him to develop as a person. Karl says he never wants to stand still. He wants to question things and keep changing. Accept challenges. And try to learn from everything. "However," he says, "of course I prefer to do that while winning ..."