November 8, 2017

Simon Ammann

(info about Simon Ammann)

Diving into the world of a ski jumper

Thomas Kieller

Photos – Copyright Swiss Ski

Simon Ammann: Flying in the air.

With a good technique and a fluid style, Simon launches himself from the hill where we can see him fly sometimes for a little bit more than ten seconds above everything. The sensation that he must feel in the air must be exhilarating. We can think of his personal best which is a 238.50 meters jump. When he executes a jump, his perception of the details is quite fast which help him to adapt to the situation. The Swiss athlete from Grabs, a small municipality in the east of the country, realized numerous sportive achievements during his career. He won, among others things, 23 world cup victories. He finished first of the overall rankings of the FIS World Cup of the 2009-2010 season. It remains that his most outstanding realizations are without a doubt his four Olympic gold medals that he has won at the Winter Games of Salt Lake City, United States in 2002 and at Vancouver, Canada in 2010 on the large and normal hills. However, he had also on his path some obstacles such as two big falls. He always stood up in order to go forward into his discipline that captivates him so much since his youth. In a sport where the physical and the mental aspects are quite linked, he never stops to pushback his limits by continually facing new challenges.

The phone-interview took place on October 25, 2017 at 15:00 when Simon was in Schindellegi, Switzerland. It was done in English.

Passion for ski jumping

Thomas Kieller: How did you start in ski jumping?

Simon Ammann: I started a little before 1992. It’s quite a long time ago. I was around nine and half years old. It’s pretty late for a ski jumper. You can start doing this sport at seven years old, which is the usual. So, I started a little bit later and on a small hill where we could jump about 20 meters. When you get at the top even on a small hill like this one, you don’t see the outrun because it’s too steep after takeoff. And then when you arrived at the bottom, you wake up.

I like to say that I have two brothers who were doing their first jumps with other young kids. On our hill, it was difficult to get out of the row and to go back. When you were at the start, there was not so much choice left, you had to jump.

Thomas: For the common person, ski jumping is an unknown sport. What do you like in your discipline?

Simon: The feeling of flying is difficult to compare with other things. First, you need a lot of energy to go into the air. You have to use force and technique. After, once you have a good and stable aerodynamic position into the air, you feel really weightless. The speed gives you extra adrenaline and extra endorphins. It’s a huge joy to have a really good jump. By the way, it keeps me doing the sport for such a long time. The feeling is fantastic. It’s a very surprising sport as well because you can drive to the hill quietly, get warmed up and everything at that point is under control. Then, you get up on the hill and once you are in to the air, it can be a long jump. You can feel the energy and that’s what makes the sport so refreshing.

Training of a ski jumper

Thomas: Could you explain the mechanic of ski jumping and how does it work?

Simon: In ski jumping, you need of course some skis and a suit. By the way, we have strong rules concerning the equipment that we use. There is also the ski jump hill which has to be well prepared. In summer, it’s easier because the surface of the outrun is a kind of a plastic and the in-run is an artificial track. So, during the summer, it’s really easy going. However, in winter, to have a really nice hill, you need some knowledge on how to prepare a smooth outrun. It cannot be bumpy because it will be immediately dangerous for us.

Then, we go on the hill. We go through the gate. Our coach gives us the flag to go. After, you go into the in-run where the position is very low. For guys who don’t know our sport, they do a funny in-run position. To do it well, you must be flexible. So, you go into the in-run; you have a fast acceleration at the take off; you go into the air; you gather your skis and then you fly.

Thomas: Now, let me decompose each part of your training. When you do the take-off from the hill, you have to be explosive for a very short time. What do you do in a gymnasium for your strength and power?

Simon: We do a lot of weightlifting. For my weight which is almost 60 kg, we do quite high lifts in order to have a quick acceleration. We don’t do too much repetition. We will do it three to five times. We try to be efficient in our weightlifting. Also, we do a lot of jumping in order to imitate in a way the jump. For example, we will jump over things with both legs together.

Thomas: For the flying part, what kind of exercises physically do you do?

Simon: Actually, you cannot really imitate the fly, but you can train a lot your balance. You can train your core strength, the back and the front. The modern training for the core muscles into the legs is really good for our sport. But for the flight itself which implies a lot of velocity and the feeling of the skis, you cannot imitate it properly in the gym. You really must practice it on the hill.

Thomas: What parts do you train the most?

Simon: We train mostly the legs. We do some squats with the barbell on the shoulder in order to take all the weight. I have a friend who does 100 kg. When we do this, we go really into a deep position and we go upward. So, we train our stability as well. We don’t train so much with machines. Also, we train our balance in many ways like on a gym ball or on a slackline. In the past years, there were a few good ideas regarding core training. However, the most you train is really the strength in your legs.

Thomas: You are doing ski jumping for a little bit more than 25 years now. Did your flying and landing techniques evolve a lot through time?

Simon: Well, I had to change my landing technique. It’s a long story but to make it short, first I was jumping with a Telemark technique with the right leg in the front. I was doing this when I started until my first Olympic in Nagano, Japan in 1998. The next summer, I had an injury on my right knee. I had the right inner ligament torn, so I changed my landing using the left leg in the front. However, I had a crash around two years ago. Since this fall at the beginning of 2015, I tried to change back my technique because I did not trust anymore my left leg in the front during the landing. So now, it’s crucial for me to achieve a proper landing technique with my right leg again. After all these years, I train a lot on my left leg, but I’m coming back on my leg of origin which is a really difficult task. Anyway, I’m training for two years now and I hope I will be successful.

Thomas: And for the flying technique, did you start with the V-style when you were young?

Simon (laughs when responding): Actually, I did not realize at that time. At the 1992 Olympic Games in France, Toni Nieminen won on the big hill with the V-style. This summer V-style was in everybody’s mouth. As for me, I was just starting ski jumping. So, I was not so aware of what was going on. My coach told me: “Let’s try the V-style”. We hold the skis a little bit wider in the air and then we go. Very easy. Ha ha ha! I think I was quite lucky to start at that time. My beginnings in the sport were really fantastic years.

Thomas: If I come back to the physical aspect of your sport, do you do some exercises for your cardio-respiratory system in order to maintain your weight or for something else?

Simon: I mostly maintain my weight with high level of stress. When we do competitions, we burn quite a lot of sugar. So, it keeps our weight down. And of course, I’m not a sumo fighter. Indeed, we are light and yes some jumpers are doing cardio to keep their weight down, but it is also good for the endurance. However, we are not focusing just on cardio during the summer. Nevertheless, it’s good to be very active during the summer in order to have some endurance for the winter period and it will help as well for faster regeneration of the muscles.

Thomas: What do you do for flexibility and suppleness required in your sport?

Simon: For flexibility, it’s a lot of stretching. I do a lot of that in the evening before I go to bed. Moreover, at 36 years old, I need some time for the warm up. If I did all the stuff in the gym, it will be exceeding my time. So, I try to do some parts in the evening which is good. Besides, it’s also active stretching that I do. It’s not just one long stretch for a specific muscle. We do our stretching back and forth, again and again, until the muscle adapts a little bit.

In ski jumping, we really need to be flexible. One example that I can give you is the ankle. We need to go further than in other sports. To be in a very deep position during the in-run, we need to be fully flexed despite going low with our knees. So, we have to be flexible in the ankle. Also, in order to have a good compact in-run position, we need a good back and the hamstring muscles must be long. That needs a lot of stretching.

Simon Ammann: Ski jumping athlete.

Attitude in a competition

Thomas: We can see that the competitors when they are waiting for their turn at the top of the hill, they are in the zone. What is your approach before a jump?

Simon: I like to have a routine during a competition day. I can spend a long time just focusing. Of course, through my career I developed this aspect. Now that I’m an experienced athlete, it’s kind of a meditation that I do. I may speak more sometimes, but usually I don’t speak so much on a competition day. When I warm up and I go up the hill, it’s really close to a meditation for me like I said. I focus mentally on the moment where I will leave the gate in order to go into the real action. In this manner, I’m better prepared in my mind. In brief, I dive into this world then after I dive from the hill.

Thomas: When you were younger, did you feel a lot of pressure during big competitions like the Olympic Games or the World Championships?

Simon: It took me a while before I started using this routine that I just explained. Before that, we were trying diverse techniques of focusing. During those types of competitions that you said, we have to say that it’s just a normal day. And when we go through an event like this, you realized that it’s just a normal day.

However, I have always been a guy with a lot of adrenaline. My heart beat is quite high during a competition or during a jump. We did some measurements during the Vancouver Olympics Games in 2010, just before the jump meaning when we hold the skis and we see other athletes going into the gate. I remember that I was just standing there and my heart rate was between 160 and 180 beats per minute. This is an example of what it means for us to be aware and focus when the body is fully prepared for action. We must not fall into the negative side which can become fear. To achieve this state of concentration, that needs a lot of training. That’s the way I’m competing.

I know that some guys have a lower heart beat during a competition. However, it’s different when it comes to a much more severe moment like the Olympics Games which you cannot repeat or you do only a few times in your life. So, it was good for me that I enjoy working in this kind of environment.

Thomas: During your career, you had your share of experiences. Prior to the 2002 Winter Olympics Games in Salt Lake City, you crashed during training at Mühlenkopfschanze in Willigen, Germany. What was your mindset after you have crashed?

Simon: I had some pain in my collarbone. But at the beginning, I was afraid because I had a headache. I crashed on my head. However, later I was not so much concerned about that because headaches normally do not last so long. But for my collarbone, I was immediately shipped to the hospital. When I was there, I said: “Is it OK?” When they said its fine, I told myself that there is only one month left until the beginning of the Olympics in Salt Lake City. I will somehow recover from that headache and go back on the hill. I realized quite soon that there was enough time. Moreover, this necessary break from ski jumping took me away from the main stress. I went to Salt Lake City with full of energy. This part was good for me even if I did not realize it at that moment. I was so focused on my comeback on the hill. And yes, it was quite an intense period for me, from the fall until the competition.

Thomas: And as we know, you won two gold medals at those Olympic Games. You already talked about your method of focusing. Is ski jumping a sport which needs a lot of concentration from the athlete because of all the details that goes into the jump?

Simon: Yes and we are mostly interior guys. You need to be a little bit introverted to deal with yourself and to have some kind of order with all the details which comes along. You need a well organized storyboard from the training to competition in order to have powerful and effective ski jumps on the hill. Yes concentration is important. In Japan, they like to compare us with kendo fighters. In this martial art, you need to focus and have good reflexes because it’s so fast. We can understand that concentration is obvious.

Ski jumping may seem a dangerous sport but it’s not that dangerous when you do it. Well, I had two crazy crashes during my career. However, I got over the first crash just within one month and the last one took a little bit longer. Of course, I was lucky but you just have to stand up and go up the hill again and not let the fear grow. It’s a very important process that we really try to follow and maintain. Once you fall, it’s important to go back on your feet as quickly as you can and I try again. This way, the fear cannot grow.

Thomas: Thank you Simon for the interview.

Simon: Thank you. Cheers.