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Riding the Air
Rick Telander
January 27, 1988
Austria's Andreas Felder (above) and Ernst Vettori are hot in the chillingly spectacular sport of ski jumping
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January 27, 1988

Riding The Air

Austria's Andreas Felder (above) and Ernst Vettori are hot in the chillingly spectacular sport of ski jumping

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If Vettori is a bit too high-strung, the unflappable Felder. whose blond-tipped hair goes over big with the girls (both he and Vettori are single) is in danger of outgrowing a sport that's peopled with young athletes. "On the Austrian team. 25 is old." Felder says. Ganzenhuber says, "He loves his sport, but there are times when he is thinking, Is this all?"

If there's a wild-and-crazy attitude in any of the Nordic events, it probably arises most often in ski jumping. The event is short (three jumps and you're done), glamorous (the athletes are framed against the sky) and breathtaking (where else but in the downhill do skiers crash as spectacularly?). And it calls out to those who will take the biggest risks. "No matter how high the hill, you can always find some idiot to go off it." says Canadian national cross-country coach Marty Hall. It's probably worth noting that Matti Nykänen of Finland, the erstwhile bad boy of ski jumping, is expected to be Felder's and Vettori's toughest competition at Calgary.

Of all the skiing disciplines, jumping is also the most difficult in which to pick the winner. No one. not even the jumper, knows what specific conditions he must deal with until he's already speeding down the ramp. "There can be favorites, but really, anybody in the top 30 can win anytime." says Holland. "Look at Felder. He won the 90-meter world championships one day. and a week later, on the 70-meter, he finished something like 50th."

Whichever of the Ski Twins finishes higher in the Olympics, it seems certain that the other will not be jealous. They have been around each other long enough to appreciate friendship more than brutal competition. They're from middle-class families—Felder's father is a mechanical engineer, Vettori's a lieutenant in the Austrian army—and when the two have spare time, they often relax by hopping into a Volkswagen bus and driving off to Italy for some surfing or to a major city where they can check out the latest rock bands. "We need to be with normal people sometimes." says Felder.

The sense of unity that the two bring to the Austrian ski team is welcomed by Ganzenhuber. It is a relationship far different from the one that existed between another pair of Austrian jumpers. Karl Schnabl and Toni Innauer, who won the gold and silver medals, respectively, in the 90-meter event at the 1976 Olympics. They have only recently begun speaking to each other again.

"Our coaches stressed long ago that the main thing should be that somebody from the team wins, not who," says Vettori. "Also Andi and I can give each other tips on how to improve, small things that only a jumper would know."

Ski jumping isn't a sport that many people who live outside certain mountainous regions will ever engage in. As American jumper Zane Palmer puts it. "It's not the kind of thing where you're going to grab the family and say, 'Hey, let's go to Lake Placid for a weekend of ski jumping!' "

But it is a sport that gets our attention, philosophically at least. As Ganzenhuber puts it, "Everyone wants to fly. It's just a feeling that everybody has. And the athlete has a special feeling, a will to do these things that others can't or won't, to find out where his borders lie. That is what Felder and Vettori do."

And that's why we'll watch them do it.

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Andreas Felder 1 0 0
Ernst Vettori 1 0 0
Paul Ganzenhuber 1 0 0
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