"We do not have a chance with the women, so we can subtract those. We can compete with the Finns and Swedes, but Eastern Europe—where the Russian and Czech women do a man's work—they will produce the winning women. Our women are good, but they are also charming and some of them"—he shrugged—"are surprisingly ladylike.
"But we are in a favored position otherwise. If Eggen fails, which is not likely, I have someone else to send in. Ellefsaeter or Martinsen. Plus some more.
"There is always the possibility," he said, "that they might get overtrained. It is even possible [he sounded like he didn't believe it] that they could get stage fright and do badly."
Still, it is difficult to picture Ellefsaeter scared of anything. Gronningen is as relaxed as, and looks like, Ray Bolger about to shuffle into a chorus of Once in Love with Amy, and Martinsen, Eggen and the others are icily cool about competition. And if there is one man in all the Northland who is not going to get stage fright it is the littlest Norsk of them all, Wirkola, the Andy Hardy of the ski jump.
While Coach Jensen was shepherding his team through the social perils of Oslo, Wirkola was up at his home in Trondheim, 250 miles to the north, standing atop the town's small jump and looking down the iced track into the thickest snowstorm since Leif Eric-son was a kid. He had his knit cap cocked down over both eyes. It rested on the bridge of his nose, which is slightly twisted, Rocky Graziano fashion, and a faint smile played around the edges of his mouth.
The little jump in Trondheim is 60 meters or so, all rickety, and it creaks and groans and goes bump in the night. To the unpracticed eye, coming off that monster would be like jumping off the St. Louis Gateway Arch. But Wirkola figures it is the snap jump of all time, and he could go off the thing doing the Monkey, the Bird or the Slop—all of which he does well.
But what about that snow? Jumping into a blizzard like that would be like jumping off the world, right?
"It may look awful," said Wirkola. "But it's nothing. It is not that dangerous." He grinned, with a burst of teeth and that cocky look. "After all, a snowstorm does not matter; nothing matters but to jump, you see? Look, you know the hill is down there. You don't have to see it—you just have to jump because jumping is everything."
Wirkola jumps, the experts agree, like nobody else in the world. For one thing, he is small—barely able to peer over the top of a Volkswagen—and he has the short, slightly bowed legs of a weight lifter. But more than that, he is made out of what is suspected to be blue steel and helium. He does not have, his teammates say, a single nerve ending in his body.
Jumpers have got to be slightly daffy, anyway. Before Wirkola, the most beautiful in the world was Toralf Engan, Norway's 1964 gold medalist and now its jumping coach. Engan used to agonize over perfection before every leap, doubled over with tension and often throwing up before stepping into position on top of the ramp. Wirkola is his opposite: he is so cool that he scares everybody else on the platform.