Ski jumping: just call me Eddie the Eagle

Utah Olympic ParkThe following is an article originally The Observer:

“Don’t be afraid: you can’t get hurt in the air,” are the parting words of my coach, Matt, as I climb the ominous wooden staircase like a felon to the gallows. “Afraid” is a criminally overused word. Most of us are guilty of misapplying it to situations where, if we’re honest, we’re just a tad apprehensive. But at the top of that staircase, staring down the unforgiving, icy barrel of a 39-metre ski jump, afraid doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel. This isn’t just fear – it’s unadulterated, leg-trembling, pant-wetting terror.

I try to switch off my brain and wait for Matt to ski to the landing area and give me the signal. A few seconds later he’s waving like a brightly coloured beetle. Refusing to give my brain even a second to stop me, I tip my weight over the edge and suddenly I’m slicing straight down the tramlines at ferocious speed, with nothing whatsoever to prevent me being hurled into the freezing blue sky.

Eddie the Eagle Edwards has a lot to answer for. It was his against-all-odds assault on the 1988 Winter Olympics that – as an impressionable nine-year-old boy – first ignited my own zest for winter sports. So when, as a keen skier two decades later, I was offered the chance to experience some Olympic ski jumping myself I (ahem) jumped at the chance.

The Utah Olympic Park was built to stage the 2002 Salt Lake Games, but now functions as an enormous adrenaline amusement park. Members of the public can try everything from international-standard bobsleigh racing to Nordic ski-jumping for beginners.

My coach for the three-day course – mornings only, afternoons were free for skiing the wonderful powder of neighbouring Park City – is former US skier and Olympic coach Matt Terwillegar. Despite the fact that he bears an uncanny resemblance to England’s error-prone goalkeeper David James, it’s apparent that I’m in extremely safe hands.

I’m kitted out in a ridiculously tight, shiny blue jumpsuit that leaves nothing to the imagination (including the amount of American-sized portions I’ve been devouring in Park City). This tasty little number is teamed with a lightweight helmet and special jumping boots, which look like a cross between boxing trainers and clown shoes. I look like a low-rent, slightly pudgy Evel Knievel.

Click here to read the entire article.

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