Ski jump events could throw up surprises in Sochi

For the first time, the world’s best male ski jumpers will have to share the Olympic stage with their female counterparts – the guys have had it all to themselves since the inaugural Winter Games in 1924.

While the women will make their one and only appearance on the normal hill in Sochi, three gold medals will be awarded in men’s competition. The normal hill event is scheduled for Feb. 9, with the large hill on Feb. 15 and the team event on the large hill on Feb. 17.

With the Austrian team not looking as dominant as it has the past few years, all three events could throw up some surprises.

Here are five things to know about the men’s ski jumping competition at Sochi:

THE DEFENDERS: The podium places in both the normal and large hill events were occupied by the same three men at Vancouver in 2010. Leading the way with two golds was Simon Ammann of Switzerland, considered a legend in the sport after also having won double gold at Salt Lake City in 2002 and more than 20 World Cup events in his career. The 32-year-old Ammann also won the last World Cup event of 2013, showing he’s still a contender. The silver medalist in both events from Vancouver, Adam Malysz of Poland, won’t be back – he retired in March 2011 and has since raced in two Dakar rallies. Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria was the bronze medalist and is currently among the leaders on the 2013-14 World Cup season. Austria, with Schlierenzauer as one of its members, won gold in the team event, Germany took the silver and Norway, with Bardal among the four-man team, took the bronze.

THE CONTENDERS: Slovenia’s Peter Prevc leads the overall World Cup in a tight race ahead of Poland’s Kamil Stoch and Schlierenzauer, who surprisingly is the only Austrian in the top 8. Ammann is fourth. While Japan’s Sara Takanashi is the runaway leader in the women’s World Cup with eight wins in nine events, there is no clear-cut leader or medal favorite among the top five or six jumpers. Austria has dominated the team events in recent years, but this season Slovenia – with Prevc leading the way – has won both team competitions on the World Cup, while Germany finished second both times.

SCHLIERENZAUER’S QUEST: At the age of 24, Schlierenzauer is already the most successful World Cup jumper ever, with a record 52 victories on the circuit. But he has struggled to carry that dominance into the major championships so far, with a single individual victory from four world championships and one Olympics. If he wants to cement his place among the sport’s all-time greats, he needs at least one individual gold medal in Sochi.

THE DANGERS: Three-time Olympic champion Thomas Morgenstern of Austria suffered skull injuries and a bruised lung in a training crash in early January and was discharged from hospital about 10 days later. Still suffering some memory gaps, it’s uncertain whether Morgenstern will be able to compete in Sochi. Jumpers often have to make personal safety choices in competitions, even if organizers deem the conditions safe. At Klingenthal, Germany, in December, defending World Cup champion Schlierenzauer refused to compete to protest a decision to go ahead with the event in windy conditions.

THE FORMAT: The individual competitions are held over two rounds, with the top 30 advancing to the second jump. The winner is determined by points, not purely on the length of the jump, with the total score a combination of distance and style. The competitors start with 60 points and receive two points for every meter jumped over a certain distance determined by the size of the hill, and two points deducted for every meter under the prescribed distance. There are five judges, with the best and worst scores thrown out, and the other three added together to get a style score. In the team event, four jumpers compete for each country, with their combined scores from two rounds added up to determine the winner.