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. ski analyses : How about ... let`s NOT crash? - 14 February 2011 - 10:18

Crashing is both the most exciting and most horrible part of top-level ski racing. Nearly every world championship racer has had at least one big spill. But there are some athletes who seem to have adopted an uncanny ability NOT to crash, even when gravity and all other forces appear to be going against them.

Sweden’s Patrik Jaerbyn – who has survived a number of horrible crashes relatively unscathed, including just a few weeks ago in Wengen – says there is no mental secret for him in taking up the reigns even when it looks like his run is out of control.

“I don’t think it’s mental,” he says. “I think a lot of crashing is bad luck. A lot of it is your own fault. But it’s tough. I can’t remember my crash in Wengen a couple of weeks ago. It’s a fine line. I think if your equipment is dialed in and you are very confident with what you’re doing, then the odds are really good.”

For some racers though, not crashing is pure instinct … or as double world champion Elisabeth Goergl says, when she comes close to crashing, it is “her job” to make sure it doesn’t happen.

“My job is to solve the mistake as good as I can and not finish the crash … that is my job,” says the Austrian, who partially tore a knee ligament doing an acrobatic maneuver to avoid crashing in Lake Louise this season. “You just have to be focused and in the run. I do a lot of sports. I’m a good athlete and I’m strong. That’s maybe why I can recover in these situations. For doing the sport, you have to have a basic level of physical fitness. I crashed a lot in my life so maybe my body learned how to resolve, how to [prevent] the crash.”

Another lady who has had a lot of crashes in her life but also a lot of last-minute steers away from disaster – especially this season on World Cup speed hills – is Lindsey Vonn.

“For me, it’s a matter of keeping my cool,” Vonn says of her close calls, like sliding at about 120 kilometers per hour on her hip in the Lake Louise downhill or throwing her skis sideways to get back on course while hurdling toward a net in the Zauchensee super G (somehow still landing on the podium in both races). “It’s just the belief and the cool factor – staying cool even though you make mistakes is the most important thing for me at this point. It’s what comes naturally to me. If I almost crash, I just try to keep going. I don’t really think about crashing, I just think about how to get back up and keep going.”

Carlo Janka – The Ice Man – knows a few things about “the cool factor,” too.

“When you have scary moments and no control and you think you can crash, you don’t want to fight with the hill,” Janka said after the world championship super G in Garmisch, in which he finished seventh and, due to health concerns, won’t race again until the giant slalom on Friday.

Fast reflexes and mental calm may prevent some crashes but there are others in which gravity just wins and racers go down. In this case, says Anja Paerson, an athlete must know how to crash “well.”

“We have to make sure the crashes are in a good way. I’m not afraid of crashing,” she says. “Somewhere I’m going to end up in a net anyway. I trust myself that I take the right decision when I’m crashing.”

And what is the “right decision” when crashing …?

“Lift your skis up. Try to relax. Go with the crash and don’t force it,” Paerson says. “When you have to force it, do it in the exact moment, put your hands in and twist around. When you come into an A or B net, you want to come with the back. You don’t want to go in with your feet first. It all kind of comes to me straight away. I try to always lift my feet up. If I slide, I try not to get on my back, but if I know I’m coming into a net, then I’m trying to twist so I get in with my back protection. The net is really soft, but if you go in feet-first you’re going to tear a knee ligament. It’s very important to know how to crash. I’ve crashed a few times.”

Check out this video of Goergl, Vonn and Paerson analyzing the art of crashing and not crashing.

By Shauna Farnell
Monday 14 February 2011

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