PICTURES

Ski jumping: Better helmets and body armour needed, says top official

Sarah Hendrickson of the US soars through the air in her trial jump during the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center in Rosa Khutor on Feb 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTER
Sarah Hendrickson of the US soars through the air in her trial jump during the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center in Rosa Khutor on Feb 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
France's Coline Mattel reacts at winning bronze in the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual Final Round at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb 11, 2014, in Rosa Khutor near Sochi . -- PHOTO: AFP
France's Coline Mattel reacts at winning bronze in the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual Final Round at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb 11, 2014, in Rosa Khutor near Sochi . -- PHOTO: AFP
Germany's Carina Vogt competes to win gold in the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual Final Round at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb 11, 2014, in Rosa Khutor near Sochi . -- PHOTO: AFP
Germany's Carina Vogt competes to win gold in the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual Final Round at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb 11, 2014, in Rosa Khutor near Sochi . -- PHOTO: AFP
Japan's Sara Takanashi reacts after her final jump during the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center in Rosa Khutor, on Feb 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Japan's Sara Takanashi reacts after her final jump during the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center in Rosa Khutor, on Feb 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Russia's Irina Avvakumova reacts after her jump in the final round of the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre, in Rosa Khutor on Feb 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Russia's Irina Avvakumova reacts after her jump in the final round of the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre, in Rosa Khutor on Feb 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Austria's Daniela Iraschko-Stolz competes in the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual trial at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb 11, 2014, in Rosa Khutor near Sochi . -- PHOTO: AFP
Austria's Daniela Iraschko-Stolz competes in the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual trial at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb 11, 2014, in Rosa Khutor near Sochi . -- PHOTO: AFP
US Lindsey Van lies on the snow following her jump in the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual Final Round at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb 11, 2014, in Rosa Khutor near Sochi . -- PHOTO: AFP 
US Lindsey Van lies on the snow following her jump in the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual Final Round at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb 11, 2014, in Rosa Khutor near Sochi . -- PHOTO: AFP 
Norway's Maren Lundby soars through the air as she competes in the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual Final Round at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb 11, 2014, in Rosa Khutor near Sochi . -- PHOTO: AFP&n
Norway's Maren Lundby soars through the air as she competes in the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual Final Round at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb 11, 2014, in Rosa Khutor near Sochi . -- PHOTO: AFP 
Switzerland's Bigna Windmueller attends the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual trial at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb 11, 2014, in Rosa Khutor near Sochi . -- PHOTO: AFP 
Switzerland's Bigna Windmueller attends the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual trial at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb 11, 2014, in Rosa Khutor near Sochi . -- PHOTO: AFP 
Winner Germany's Carina Vogt (centre), lies on the ground as she celebrates with team mates after her victory in the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center in Ro
Winner Germany's Carina Vogt (centre), lies on the ground as she celebrates with team mates after her victory in the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center in Rosa Khutor, on Feb 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A fan of Japan cheers during the first round of the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre, in Rosa Khutor on Feb 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A fan of Japan cheers during the first round of the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre, in Rosa Khutor on Feb 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Slovenia's Maja Vtic soars through the air during her trial jump in the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre, in Rosa Khutor Feb 11, 2014. Ski jumpers will have to
Slovenia's Maja Vtic soars through the air during her trial jump in the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre, in Rosa Khutor Feb 11, 2014. Ski jumpers will have to don better helmets and could be required to wear body armour as part of a determined bid by authorities to make the sport as safe as possible, a top official said. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (REUTERS) - Ski jumpers will have to don better helmets and could be required to wear body armour as part of a determined bid by authorities to make the sport as safe as possible, a top official said.

"It's an outdoor sport, it's a risky sport. We were able over the years to make it safer... we could make it (even) safer," said Mr Walter Hofer, the ski jumping race director at the International Ski Federation (FIS).

Spectacular crashes are fairly common in jumping. Three-times Olympic gold medallist Thomas Morgenstern of Austria has ended up in hospital twice in the last two months after crashes where he suffered a broken finger as well as face and head injuries.

"The next goal must be to make safer helmets with higher standards. Maybe we can do something for the protection of the body," Mr Hofer told reporters high up on the normal hill late on Monday night as women jumpers whistled by at 90kmh at the Sochi Olympics.

"Whatever is available on the market we will try." Mr Hofer noted that Alpine ski officials had spent a long time studying jackets that contain small air bags to help cushion the impact of falls.

"When they get something up there we will use it. At the moment I am preparing to use some protection for certain parts of our body, mostly the backbone," he said.

Tougher helmets will be introduced into Alpine skiing and ski jumping authorities want to adopt the same standards.

In recent years the FIS has taken a series of sometimes unpopular steps it says will make the sport fairer and safer.

The federation imposes minimum body mass index requirements to weed out jumpers which it says are too light. Jumpers have to wear body tight suits with low aerodynamics, much to the irritation of athletes such as four-times Olympic gold medallist Simon Ammann of Switzerland.

New hills have been redesigned to make the in-run smoother, a development which some jumpers say make takeoffs harder.

A complex new system to compensate skiers for wind conditions will be used at the Sochi Games for the first time.

Mr Hofer, who has been at FIS for 22 years, said he began trying to make the sport safer some 20 years ago after he saw a series of bad falls.

"I started to talk to experts and they told me 'Are you crazy? If you make ski jumping safer nobody will watch'. It isn't right," said the ebullient Austrian.

"I would like to attract parents to deliver their children to our beloved sport in a way they know it is a sport where athletes are cared for."

As well as improving safety, Mr Hofer - who notes that "when you release an athlete at 100 kmh from the takeoff, you can't take him back - is particularly keen to address rapidly changing wind conditions that have wrecked many a competition.

Headwinds help athletes soar further but if they are too strong they can produce dangerously long jumps. Conversely, tail winds cut flying distances.

In the past, officials would either scrap competitions altogether or restart them halfway through to take into account changing winds, which Mr Hofer said frustrated spectators.

Jumpers used to be judged on distance and style. Under the new system, they now can also gain or be docked points to take wind conditions into account.

The calculations are made by a series of computers linked to seven sensors along the in-run.

"The athlete's performance is removed from the influence of external conditions," said Mr Hofer, pointing to a screen which showed the wind strength and direction from each sensor.

The challenge for audiences is that the athlete who jumps the furthest does not always win.

Mr Alexander Pointner, head coach of the Austrian team, told Reuters that spectators should not have "to think 'What is this, that guy jumped so far but he's only fourth, what's that?' Our sport should not be so difficult".

Mr Hofer has no intention of changing his mind.

"Whatever makes ski jumping safer and fairer is worth it, even if sometimes you have to take something (away) from the transparency. People will understand sooner or later," he said.

FIS is looking at whether it would be possible to shine a blue laser line on the snow to show the public exactly where a jumper has to land to take the lead, he added.