Ski Jumping Roots Are In Norway (and St. Paul)

I love ski jumping. It is the most frightening yet graceful sport I watch (and by graceful I do not include the “agony of defeat” jumping from ABC’s Wild Word of Sports). It also seems to me to be the closest to flying a human can experience.


In this year’s Winter Olympics the Men’s Team Ski Jumping took Gold and Johann André Forfang and Robert Johansson took Silver and Bronze, respectively, in the Normal Hill individual event and Robert Johansson took Bronze in the Large Hill Individual event. Maren Lundby won the Gold in the Women’s Ski Jump.

Though not in the 2018 Olympics, Norwegian Ander Fannemel holds the world record for the longest jump.


The Origin of Ski Jumping

Ole Rye

Norway can be proud to be the country of origin for ski jumping. It can be traced to Ole Rye who jumped 9.5m (10.3 yards) in 1808. He was also a major-general in the Norwegian-Danish army and died in battle in 1849. Norwegian emigrants brought the sport to the United States in the late 1800s, and the first competition in the U.S. was held in St. Paul, Minn. in 1887.

Sondre Norheim

Norwegian Sondre Norheim is widely considered the fathers of modern ski jumping. In 1866 what has been described as the world’s first ski jumping competition with prizes, was held at Ofte, Høydalsmo, Norway. He made important innovations in skiing technology by designing new equipment, such as different bindings and shorter skis with curved sides to facilitate turns. He also designed the Telemark ski, which is the prototype of all those now produced. He and his wife immigrated to the United States, settling first in Minnesota and then moving to North Dakota.

After World War I, Norwegians Jacob Tullin Thams and Sigmund Ruud developed a new jumping style known as the Kongsberger Technique because it was created in Kongsberger, Norway. This involved jumping with the upper body bent at the hips, a wide forward lean, and with arms extended at the front with the skis parallel to each other. Thomas was the first person to win a Gold Medal in Olympic Ski Jumping in 1924.

In the mid-1950s, Swiss jumper Andreas Daescher became the first jumper to hold the arms backwards close to the body with a more extreme forward lean which superseded the Konsberger Technique. Then in 1985, Swedish jumper Jan Boklöv started spreading the tips of his skis into a “V” shape. Initially ridiculed, this technique proved so successful that by 1992 all Olympic medallists were using this style.

Early Olympic Ski Jump History

1924 Chamonix

Norway’s Jacob Tullin Thams won the first ski jumping Olympic gold (the large hill, then the sprint, was the only event contested at Winter Olympics prior to 1964). Countryman Narve Bonna won the silver, while the Norway’s Thorleif Haug was originally awarded the bronze. After a computational error in scores was discovered 50 years later, the Anders Haugen of the United States was awarded the bronze at age 86 in a special ceremony in Oslo.

Thams later became the second athlete in history to win medals at both the Winter and Summer Games: he won a silver medal in sailing at the 1936 Olympics.

1928 St. Moritz — Norwegian jumpers won gold (Alf Anderson) and silver (Sigmund Ruud).

1932 Lake Placid — Norway’s Birger Ruud won the gold, Hans Beck won the silver and Kaare Wahlberg earned the bronze. A sweep for Norway

1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen — Norway’s Ruud won gold for the second consecutive Olympics and Reidar Andersen earned the bronze medal, while Sweden’s Sven Eriksson captured the silver.

1948 St. Moritz – after a 12-year break during the war Norway again swept the ski jump medals — Petter Hugsted won the gold, Birger Ruud won the silver, and Thorleif Schjelderup earned the bronze.

Early Ski Jump in Virginia, Minnesota

At age 36, Ruud, the gold medalist in 1932 and 1936, returned to Olympic competition after the break for war. Ruud had been held at a Nazi prison camp for 18 months during World War II and later fought in the Norwegian resistance. In 1948, he went to St. Moritz as a ski jumping coach, but decided to enter himself in the competition in place of an inexperienced jumper when he saw that the weather conditions were poor. He became the first ski jumper to win a medal in three different Olympics, and he accomplished that feat even with two Winter Games in the middle of the string (1940 and 1944) cancelled because of war.

1952 Oslo – Norway hosted this Olympics and Norwegians Arnfinn Bergmann and Torbjorn Falkanger finish first and second, respectively. Sweden’s Karl Holmstrom won the bronze.

It wasn’t until 2014 that women competed in the ski jump competition at the Olympics.


Olympic Wrap-up

Once again Norway led the medal count in 2018 with 13 Gold, 14 Silver, and 11 Bronze for a total of 38. Ten medals ahead of second place Canada.

Hope you’ve enjoyed our blogs on the Nordic connection to the Winter Olympics.


Written by Mary Hirsch