What a week! Blood, sweat, tears and much, much more were expended by five amazing characters who took on this challenge of learning to Ski Jump with Eddie (the Eagle) Edwards in Courchevel all for Ski 4 Cancer. Mark “Sparky” Black the local tele marker from Meribel (and Suffolk) provided a calm cook approach, Andrew Marshall our ex BASI instructor, carpenter from north Wales brought a laugh to every moment (except perhaps the World Cup Rugby), Alex Stubbs who is normally providing champagne treats to her clients or spending hours on her bicycle was the teams glue and added a welcome feminine touch, Max Willcocks mountain runner/social media marketer was an inspiration of determination in that “nothing is impossible” while maintaining a smile on his face and last but not least Donald Banks who as a “zero to hero” alpine skier provided a back of drop of that this was actually a slightly mad idea!!
The first day or so was taken up with dealing with the speeds that one achieves on the “reception” on the 60m jump and very importantly learning the crucial summer ski jumping skill of confronting the deceleration one has going from the plastic to the grass. You have to sit on your rear bindings to avoid “going over the handle bars” and breaking your collar bone! This is tricky going at 80kmh and staying “on” your skis! Once that key skill is taken on board they moved onto going into “position” which they would be adopting once they got onto the “in-run”. This is the classic crouched position with the legs coiled like a spring ready to “jack in a box” and once they were comfortable with this they were then asked to spring up and jump as they were then speeding down the reception. All getting ready for the first jump!
Being hosted by the Resort of Courchevel and the Club des Sports Courchevel the local coaches were pretty impressed with the progress. Due to the preparation of the local, regional and national teams who were all jumping during the week there was a bit of coach rotation with Tony Delaup head coach for the Club des Sports Courchevel leading the process but very soon each of our athletes established their favorite coach. Eddie spent most of his time with Damien Maîtres the regional Comitie des Savoie coach developing and progressing on the 60m getting up to 50-55m jumps. The team were also on the 60m although they were watching Eddie fly over their heads! One of the key reasons to start on the 60m reception rather than the smaller 25m is that although faster, the guys had more time to prepare for the change of speed from plastic to grass so in fact the safer option.
On a misty Wednesday morning the guys then prepared themselves for their first jumps on the 25m. After having done a couple of “receptions” to get used to the plastic/grass transition arriving much quicker than the 60m it was considered the next step was using the 10m which is a ramp half way down the reception. Being slightly competitive and really ready to get on with things, Max, Mark and Donald considered this unnecessary and headed straight up to the 25m without another word! Happily they all survived their first jumps without much more than the odd loss on control once they hit the grass.
Alex and Andrew took a wiser step wise approach of getting used the 10m first. And the jumping started! A combination of slight shock at the acceleration and the commitment of being in the “rails” and not being able to get out and adrenaline fuelled elation ensued! It was very interesting to see how most of the team very soon realised that Ski jumping is in fact a very technical sport and the way forward was not “a bull in a tea shop” type approach but to focus on the technique that would allow them to jump safely and in control and that would lead to greater distance and performance. Of course they all realised you need a certain amount of “bull” in the first place! Eddie added words of wisdom as he took up the role of assistance coach with Tony.
Once the first jumps had been made the afternoon started with our team joining the U13 Club group for their warm up and caused much hilarity, although when the local kids took over the 25m it meant some slightly nervous looks whilst moving back to the 60m. Further sharp focused skill development unfolded. After a quick reception to re-view the extra speed of the 60m the technique learned on the 25m was applied and Max, Mark and Donald were off and away. Damien Minder who was coaching the group for the 60m explained that even though the 60m was more intimidating due the longer in-run and reception and slightly higher speed, the more progressive nature of the jump meant that in fact it was safer as they guys were not forced to act to quickly and had more time to go from one phase of the jump to the next.
Alex and Andrew continued to develop their in run skills on the reception to grow confidence in preparation for the next step. Challenges like this do demonstrate that people develop and learn in different ways and it became clearer and clearer that getting the base skills to build upon was most important. It also demonstrates that in some circumstances going all guns blazing can mean that the skills are not fully absorbed and at times it was necessary to take a step or two back to basics to be able to get back on track. From a sporting, psychological and learning point of view it was fascinating to see the different approaches and Andrew exemplified that building from concrete foundations stage by stage was a wise and considered method which bore fruit the next morning! It also demonstrated how exhausting the mental aspect of learning something like this could be!
I’m not sure whether sharing the jumps with the Ladies German team, who happened to be having a training camp in Courchevel and were literally flying overhead, helped or hindered, although the comradery and banter that commenced in the lift up seemed to. Ski jumping is a very focussed and intense sport which doesn’t leave much time for too many giggles and it was a real pleasure to see that our Brits were bringing out a lighter side of their German colleagues, to the point that smiles actual broke out (to the slight consternation of some of the more senior members of the team!) Barriers were being broken down! Funnily enough the French Ladies team didn’t seem to concur and gave our lads a bit of a ticking off! I think they were just having a bad day!
Thursday was a day that brought the fruition of Andrew and Alex’s stepwise approach and the pride and clucky parental feeling I had as they both took on the 60m and overcame their demons to achieve what they came here to do was somewhat emotional. By now pretty much all of the team had gone through the ski jumpers “rite of passage” of having what’s known locally as a “chute”. Happily everyone survived their tumbles and Eddie proudly stated “you are real ski jumpers now” and some time spent in Chalet Dulcis’s Jacuzzi, hammam and pool seemed to sooth the aching muscles. The rest of the team spent time developing their skills, as well as getting to know the German Ladies further and spreading the feel good factor that our team seemed to be bringing more and more to the Ski Jumping community.
Eddie bumped into French National coach Gerard Colin who he had jumped and trained with 20 years before and before we knew it the guys were making friends with the French team. If nothing else has been achieved there has been a real positive feel about the whole approach and team have brought and any thought that the professionals wouldn’t appreciate our “Amateurs” coming to muck around was completely dispelled and a real respect and understanding was shown by everyone at the jumps and in fact the professionals opened their arms and welcomed our Brits into the club. I guess anyone who has jumped remembers the early days and recognises the challenges our team were going through with admiration and respect. The number of times people looked completely gobsmacked when they realised what our team were doing and the fact the Eddie was taking on jumping again after almost 20 years was frankly, refreshing!
We awoke to snow on Friday morning and due to the low temperatures the jumps were closed in the morning. Each jump has a significant sprinkler system within and they had to be drained to avoid freezing and the damage to the piping system. “What? It snows and we can’t jump?” As there was plenty of preparation ahead of the weekend of the French National Championships everyone chipped in and following a chat with the Vincent Descombe Sevoie and Ronan Lamy Chapuis who are the only members of the French A Team (Andrew looked slightly ill when Vince told him he holds the French record of 225m!)
The German Ladies were using the impressive Gym facilities built recently at the Ski Jump and further chat lead to the realisation that their head coach Andreas Bauer jumped with Eddie in the Calgary Olympics! Eddie and Andreas were like old mates that had not seen each other for 20 years! It was amazing to also find out that in fact they have consecutive bib numbers! Eddie explained what we were doing in Courchevel and Andi offered to help and donated some kit to auction and before they left we were lucky enough to get the girls to sign a bunch of our Ski 4 Cancer T Shirts including, no less, the 2 times World Champion and first ever Olympic Gold Medal winner Carina Vogt! It’s not often you get to hang out with a legend like Eddie the Eagle and a World and Olympic Champion on a crisp Friday morning in Courchevel Le Praz! Even more impressive was that they were actually having fun and all left with a smile on their faces!
The guys were able to jump in the afternoon with Eddie leading the coaching. The weekend came and went in a rush of hundreds of kids, juniors, seniors with both the Men’s and Ladies French teams plus Evelyn Insam Italian World Cup ski jumper who is a regular in Courchevel, taking the opportunity to get some competition practice in too. Separate competitions on the 25m, 60m, 90m and 120m ensued over the weekend. Our new British Ski Jumping team contributed by acting as forerunners in both the 25m and 60m competitions. The finale of the 90m official large French senior championships was punctuated with our very own Max Willcocks taking on the massive psychological challenge of jumping it himself. There was a holding of breath as he left the bar watched by the whole French Ski jumping community and massive respect from one and all including the guys and girls of the French Team, coaches included!
The locals swept all of the junior categories with Sebastian Woodbridge winning the U9s, Louis Learoyd the boys U11s, Lilou Zepchi girls U11s, Mickael Dieu boys U13s, Mathis Contamine boys U15s, Lucille Morat girls U15s, Jonty Learoyd boys U17s. Evelyn Insam took the French Ladies Championship with Vincent Descombes Sevoie taking the Men’s title.
The whole event was challenging in more ways the one but showed what can be done by a bunch of Brits prepared to take something on for a great cause. The “entent cordial” created, the laughs, respect, approval and fun had by all involved was something to behold. We have another week in January to look forward to, moving on to use Ski Jumping boots (with a free heel) and skis and based on the progress of this week I believe that surpassing Eddie’s Jump of 73.5m made at the Calgary Olympics is a real possibility, although in my humble opinion, what we really all learned is much more important than any of that and that is Sport and in this case Ski Jumping brings people together with common goals and simply reminds us all what’s most important about it all, simply having fun.
Seeing the smile in Eddie’s face witnessing Max and all of the team going all out for this greater good made me realise that perhaps we have started something special. It may have been also that Jean Francois Coquard the Director of the Service des Sports Courchevel has confirmed that we will be doing it all again next year with a team from France and as many other nations that he can muster! So who knows it could be the start of the World Amateur Ski Jumping Championships! All in the name of Jump with Eddie – Jump 4 Cancer!