Innovations in Nordic Sport

I grew up in Finland where winter sports are huge.  Several winter sports saw quite significant transformations while I was following them in the late 80s.  One was skijumping, the other cross-country skiing.

In skijumping one of the big rivalries during the 1988-1989 season was between Sweden’s Jan Boklov and Finland’s Matti Nykanen.  Nykanen was a skijumping phenom – by the late 80s he was a veteran who had already won four previous world cup titles.  But Boklov introduced a style of skijumping that radically changed the physics and even aesthetics of the sport.  His V-style jumps carried him further and eventually led to a “paradigm shift” of sorts in the sport (judges at first discounted the technique, to an extreme).   “Style” points were quite important in skijumping (see Nykanen’s style versus Boklov’s style in the clip below). But the “uglier” V-style eventually had to be integrated given its clear superiority.  The V-style, introduced by Boklov (and a few others) in the late 80s, is now the exclusive approach in skijumping.

A similar, stylistic innovation also radically shaped cross country skiing.  Traditional cross country skiing was largely about a gliding motion on an established track. But in the 70s and 80s it became increasingly clear that “skating” was actually a far better and faster approach to skiing (the Finn Pauli Siiltonen apparently gets some credit, though the technique was used by many in different forms).  The skating technique, by the late 1980s, led to the creation of two separate sports: classic cross country and skate skiing (separate events in the olympics as well).

There you go: a bit of random trivia you might need in Trivial Pursuit, or to impress your friends over Thanksgiving dinner or if you need a sporting-related example for a class discussion.

2 Comments on “Innovations in Nordic Sport”

  1. Teppo,

    Thanks for sharing this very interesting story.

    The judges initial response to the V-style reminded me of the initial response to the quasicrystals discovery:

    ““The list of scientific heretics who were persecuted for their radical ideas but eventually proved right keeps getting longer. Last month, Daniel Shechtman won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of quasicrystals, having spent much of his career being told he was wrong.

    “I was thrown out of my research group. They said I brought shame on them with what I was saying,” he recalled, adding that the doyen of chemistry, the late Linus Pauling, had denounced the theory with the words: “There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.”

    Note the many similarities.



  2. stevepostrel says:

    My favorite example is the flip long jump. Innovators showed that if a long-jumper launched head-first and did a forward somersault near the apex of his leap, he would go significantly farther. (I think it had to with both aerodynamics and better alignment of the lift vector behind one’s center of mass.) The track authorities, those hidebound shellbacks, outlawed the method on spurious safety grounds.

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