Phenomena

Sochi 2014: Ski Jump

Great ski jumpers are masters of aerodynamics. There are four main parts to a jump: the in-run, take-off, flight, and landing. An athlete’s aerodynamics are most vital in the in-run and, naturally, the flight. During the in-run, the athlete is trying to gain as much speed as possible, so she tucks down and pulls her arms behind her back to streamline her body and keep her frontal area as small as possible. This limits her drag so that she can maximize her speed at take-off. Once in the air, though, the jumpers act like gliders. In flight, there are three forces acting on the the jumper: gravity, lift, and drag. Gravity pulls the jumper down, and drag tends to push her backwards up the hill, but lift, by counteracting gravity, helps keep jumpers aloft for a greater distance. To maximize lift, a jumper angles her skis outward in a V and holds her arms out from her sides. This configuration turns the jumper’s body and skis into a wing. The best jumpers will tweak their positions with training jumps and wind tunnel time to maximize their lift while minimizing their drag in flight and on the in-run. Technique is critical in ski jumping, but conditions play a significant role as well. Tomorrow’s post will discuss why and how judges account for changing conditions. (Photo credits: L. Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images; D. Lovetsky/AP; E. Bolte/USA Today)

FYFD is celebrating the Games with a look at fluid dynamics in the Winter Olympics. Check out our previous posts on the aerodynamics of speed skatingwhy ice is slippery and how lugers slide so fast.

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