Ski jumping is one of the most exciting and death-defying sports in the world, and the very best jumpers in the world dazzled the Sochi crowd on Day 1 as qualifying for the first round of the men's normal hill ski jumping was contested.
Although the qualifying round didn't feature the top 10 jumpers in the World Cup standings due to the fact that they were given automatic berths into the first round, there was still a high level of competition and some absolutely spectacular performances.
Here is a look at those who prequalified and did not have to compete prior to the Feb. 9 medal rounds:
Ski jumping is certainly a dangerous sport, but every jumper landed safely, which speaks to the excellence of those involved in the Winter Games. Although nobody who jumped on Day 1 is considered to be a top medal contender, the confidence gained from getting a jump under their belts could propel some of the jumpers to big performances in the first round as well as the finals.
Along with the full qualifying results for men's normal hill ski jumping, here is some further analysis regarding the biggest storylines that played out on Day 1.
|6||Roman Koudelka||Czech Republic||121.3||Q|
|8||Jan Matura||Czech Republic||118.5||Q|
|10||Jakub Janda||Czech Republic||117.0||Q|
|17||Hyun-Ki Kim||Korea Republic||114.4||Q|
|18||Seou Choi||Korea Republic||113.7||Q|
|25||Lukas Hlava||Czech Republic||108.7||Q|
|33||Ronan Lamy Chappuis||France||106.2||Q|
|34||Heung-Chul Choi||Korea Republic||105.9||Q|
|42||Chil-Ku Kang||Korea Republic||99.3|
|45||Sorin Iulian Pitea||Romania||90.2|
Michael Hayboeck Dominates Competition, Thomas Morgenstern Qualifies
Austria has traditionally been a power in Olympic ski jumping, so it didn't come as a big surprise to see an Austrian top qualifying. Many probably figured that Thomas Morgenstern would be the guy to pace the field, but his jump was somewhat conservative, while fellow countryman Michael Hayboeck went for the gusto.
The 22-year-old Hayboeck, who is 22nd in the World Cup standings, racked up a score of 128.6, which was the best of the day, per FIS Ski Jumping on Twitter:
While Hayboeck may have hopes of an Olympic medal this year in Sochi after his qualifying performance, Morgenstern has modest expectations. There was some question as to whether or not the three-time Olympic gold medalist would even make it to the Winter Games after crashing a few weeks ago, according to Reuters (via EuroSport), so he seems content to simply be in Sochi:
My hope here is to get through the Games, to get back home safely and hopefully I can surprise in the competition as well. I'm really looking forward to it and I at least know there is no pressure at the moment because of my fall. I have a gold medal at home, it's great, it's nice to know, there's nothing to lose.
Now that Morgenstern has a jump under his belt, perhaps his aspirations will grow, but he'll have to overcome Hayboeck, who is now brimming with confidence.
Three Americans Qualify
No American has medaled in ski jumping since Anders Haugen took bronze in the large hill at the 1924 Chamonix Games, and while it is highly unlikely that the drought will end, three Americans were able to qualify for the final day of normal hill ski jumping.
Anders Johnson led the way by qualifying 26th, and he even made sure to say hi to his mother among the pressure and chaos of competition, according to Greg Ferraro of NBC Olympics:
Johnson was joined by two other Americans in the form of Peter Frenette and Nicholas Alexander, who was fortunate enough to steal the 40th and final spot in the first round:
THREE Americans qualify to the next round, Johnson (26), Frenette (35), Alexander (40, the last qualification spot) #skijumping— Greg Ferraro (@GFerraroNBC) February 8, 2014
Alexander beat out Canadian Matthew Rowley by just 0.7 points in what had to be a heartbreaking margin from Rowley's perspective.
Another American, Nick Fairall, finished second to last and failed to qualify.
Even though one of these Americans medaling would be a colossal shock, the fact that three of them made it to the next round certainly speaks to the fact that ski jumping is becoming a bigger deal stateside.
Windy Conditions Force Temporary Delay
A sport as precise as ski jumping requires specific conditions in order to keep a level playing field, and that became an issue during the qualifying round. With just nine men left to jump, high winds forced a brief delay in the action, according to Ferraro:
Looks like the wind is going to put us in a delay for now. Action has stopped. #skijumping— Greg Ferraro (@GFerraroNBC) February 8, 2014
Despite that, the dedicated fans continued to take in the atmosphere and cheer on the incredible athletes in their presence:
There might be a wind delay, but these fans are not going to let that get them down. #skijumping— Greg Ferraro (@GFerraroNBC) February 8, 2014
Getting a feel for the impact of the wind is very difficult when watching on television, but News Ski Jumping on Twitter captured a screen grab that showed significant winds blowing across the take-off ramp:
The delay clearly didn't impact those who jumped afterward, as Norway's Anders Fannemel and Austria's Hayboeck came through with efforts that put them near the top of the qualifying standings.
It will be interesting to see if the winds persist and impact the medal round on Sunday, as they could prove to be an equalizer between the elite jumpers and those who had to qualify.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.