Innovation – On the Right Path

By: Clint Jones, Sport Director

The dust has settled after another successful Springer Tournee week here in Park City, UT.  Events like this don’t just happen, but are rather the culmination of hours of work and planning by a huge chunk of our collective ski jumping community.  This annual event has grown and evolved so much over it’s 18 years, and with Alan Alborn in the pilot’s seat for the last 7 years or so, it has become a staple in the lives of American Ski Jumpers and Nordic Combined athletes young and old.  But, this busy week isn’t only about competitions, education seminars and BBQs.

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For the Ski Jumping National Team, Springer Tournee it is also one of the few times during our busy year that all of the athletes and staff are able to congregate and clarify the direction and goals for the coming season.  This year was no different.  The USA Nordic Sport organization continues to evolve at a staggering rate, and at the National Team level, we are pushing harder than ever to close the gap between our small team and the strongest ski jumping nations in the World.  This will only happen through outside of the box type thinking, hard work, and problem solving.  Over the last few weeks, we have been working closely with our newest staff member, Uroš “Balki” Vrhovec, to develop new competition suits for all of our USA Nordic athletes.  As the level of International competition continues to increase, equipment is more important than ever for athletes to be competitive on the World Stage.  So, over the last 10 days, Balki has been making patterns and suits from scratch to make sure our team is perfectly fit and ready to compete in the upcoming Summer Grand Prix events in Europe.  On top of a normal coaching schedule, Balki spent almost 90 hours in the sewing room with his trusty assistant Igor Cuznar at his side.  The initial feedback from the athletes and staff is that the time was not wasted and the new suits are flying well!

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Another exciting project that we are currently working on deals more with the athlete feedback, and how we can better communicate and visualize technical ideas between athletes and coaches.  Dr. Andrew Martin came to join our camp from North Carolina, and he brought some pretty fancy toys!  Using sensors attached all over an athletes body, as well as pressure sensitive insoles in the jumping boots, Dr. Martin is able to generate a 3D representation of the athletes body and balance point throughout their jump.  This can help us monitor body symmetry, weight shifts, energy transfers and other movements that we might not have been able to see with the naked eye.  This is a work in progress, but we are hopeful that it can be a useful tool for athletes to learn more about their specific jumping styles, and how they might be able to greatly improve their performance.

Now that the team has started to scatter and head off to their respective competitions abroad, we hope that the last two weeks here in Park City will serve as a positive step in their road to success.  It is always important to search for better solutions and new ways to improve.  We still have many obstacles to overcome if we hope to one day see an American Ski Jumper stand on the Olympic Podium, but it is events and busy weeks like Springer Tournee that help remind us that we are on the right path.

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