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Olympics-Ski jumping at the Sochi Winter Games

Reuters

Jan 29 (Reuters) - Here are the main facts about ski jumping at this year's Winter Olympics.

The competition:

There are three events for men at the Olympics: the normal hill, the large hill and the team event. For the first time women will jump at the Olympics, but only on the normal hill.

In the individual normal and large hill competitions, athletes take two jumps and receive points for both distance and style. The competitor with the most points wins. Jumpers are required to land using the Telemark style, where one foot is in front of the other.

For the first time at an Olympics, new rules on compensating for wind conditions will apply, which mean athletes can be docked points for jumping in a wind the jury deems to be too favourable.

In the team event, the four members of each team jump once on the normal hill. The four members of the top eight teams then take another jump and the team with the largest combined score wins.

Lighter jumpers tend to sail further and to ensure a level playing field, strict rules govern athletes' weight and equipment, including the size of the skis and the material used in the jump suits.

History:

Ski jumping first started in Norway in the 19th century and has been featured at every Winter Olympics. Athletes only competed on the large hill until 1964, when the normal hill event was introduced. The team event made its debut in 1988.

The sport is popular in central, eastern and northern Europe, as well as Japan - the parts of the world that have produced the most medal winners. Famous ski jumpers from the past include Matti Nykanen of Finland and Jens Weissflog from the former eastern Germany. Simon Ammann of Switzerland, who will be competing in Sochi, is the only man to have won four individual Olympic golds.

Ironically, one of the most well-known jumpers was also the least successful. Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards of Britain, a true amateur, came last in the normal and large hills in Calgary in 1988 but proved enormously popular with fans. In response, the International Olympic Committee adopted a rule laying down minimum standards for would-be competitors.

The venue:

The events will be held at the brand new RusSki jumping centre in the settlement of Esto-Sadok. There are two hills, the normal (designed to produce jumps of around 106 metres) and the large (140 metres). Although construction of the hill fell behind schedule and ballooned over budget, international ski jumping officials say there are no problems with the facilities.

The contenders:

Ammann will face a tough challenge from Austria's Gregor Schlierenzauer, who has racked up a record 52 individual World Cup wins and took the World Cup title last season.

Others to watch are World Cup leader Peter Prevc of Slovenia, Pole Kamil Sotch who won the individual large hill in the World Championships last year, and Anders Bardal of Norway - the normal hill winner last year.

Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovenia are the main contenders for the team event.

In the women's event the prohibitive favourite is 17-year-old Sara Takanashi of Japan, who won the World Cup in 2012/13 and is the runaway leader this season.

On paper her main challenger is Sarah Hendrickson of the United States, 19, who is returning to full fitness after a bad knee injury suffered last August. She won the World Championship title in 2013.

Other athletes with a chance include Germany's Carina Vogt, Irina Avvakumova of Russia and Austrian veteran Daniela Iraschko-Stolz. (Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Julien Pretot)

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