Ski jumping was once defined by "The agony of defeat," a stupendous crash of an Olympian who never made it off the jump, but barreled through fencing, poles and off the bottom of the in run to multiple tumbles and skis flying at the start of every “Wide World of Sports” on ABC on Saturday television in the late 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps that vision contributed to past difficulties of American jumpers, and to the absence of women in the ski jumping world.
In 2019, Kennett High School veteran jumpers, ex-state champions and current young female high school jumpers are changing the image and competitive level of ski jumping in the Granite State, throughout the Northeast and even nationally.
Among recent Kennett graduates, three jumpers fared well at last weekend's "Jumpfest," in Salisbury Conn. Saturday was the Salisbury Invitational-US Cup in which the U-20 Division, held on a 70-meter jump, was won by valley athlete Sean Maloney with 139.5 points followed by Dennis Morgan III in second with 132.9. Additionally, former Eagle Ben Emery, jumping for the Salisbury Winter Sports Association, was the sole athlete in the Senior Division.
In Sunday's Eastern Championships, Morgan took second with 143.7 and Maloney was third with 137.1, in a meet won by Henry Johnstone of Concord-Carlisle, Mass., with 167.7. Weekend results earned both former KHS state championship team members a position on the East Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Team for the third year in a row and the opportunity to compete at Park City, Utah in two weeks.
According to veteran ski jumping aficionado and Kennett ski jumping coach Chip Henry, jumpers from the Northeast are pushing to earn national honors with athletes from the traditional American hot spots of jumping like Park City, Wisconsin and Illinois. New Hampshire remains the sole state in America which sanctions high school ski jumping. In other areas, clubs nurture the development of young jumpers.
Prior to 2014, there was no Olympic opportunity for women ski jumpers. At Sochi, Russia, in 2014, American Sarah Hendrickson became the first woman ever to jump in an Olympic event; she finished 10th. Team USA sent three women and four men to jump at the PyeongChang, Korea, Olympics in 2018.
Henry is hopeful that New Hampshire will officially sanction girls ski jumping as a separate championship with its own awards in 2020.
Thursday, Kennett will send four girls to the state championship meet at the recently revamped and lighted jump at Plymouth High School: Elizabeth Koroski, Sylvie Brustin, Nadia Van Dyne and Grace Ward.
Further boosting women's profile in N.H. ski jumping, Hendrickson made the first jump off the partially restored Nansen Ski Jump in Milan two winters ago. Henry notes that complete restoration of the Nansen, which once hosted Olympic qualifiers during its heyday, will allow regular large jumping meets to return to northern New Hampshire. Modern skis, technology and jumper technique require altering of the take-off, launch angle and landing area before a targeted re-opening in 2020.
As for girls and women taking off in ski jumping, Henry is highly enthusiastic, stating "Ski jumping is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. The two most important mental traits are confidence and relaxation."
Henry observes that among his boy flyers, the competitiveness pushes the males to develop confidence in ever larger hills. For the girls, Henry sees a more relaxed approach which allows the new jumpers to approach each jump without any tightness or worry. In both cases, the coach enjoys the rapid progression within one season as new skiers graduate to ever larger jumps.
This year, practicing on the Kennett jumps off the Kancamagus Highway on Dec. 5 was the earliest start to the jumping season in some time, beating the norm by three weeks. With no seniors on the Kennett squad, it will be a challenge to bring home a third consecutive state ski jumping championship. But with the continued maturation of Valley jumpers, and the advent of more and greater ski jumping opportunities, perhaps there could be a Valley Olympian, female or male, launching off a ski jump in 2022 outside Beijing, China, or in 2026 at an Olympic site yet to be named.