Uncommon Place Number Four

Olympic Ski-jump, Helsinki

The 1936 Summer Olympics were supposed to be held in Barcelona but with a German director conducting the voting, they were out-voted (and probably out-cheated by Berlin, Germany.) Hitler wanted to show off his Arian race athletes and they built a 100,000 seat track and field stadium and six new gymnasiums for the purpose.  The 1940 Summer Olympics were to be held in Tokyo but the Japanese were at war with China so the games were given to Helsinki. Finland could not accept because they were invaded by Russia and then, with Germany invading Finland and WWII, the games were suspended until 1948 when war-torn London agreed to hold them. Poor Finland, the loser of 11 wars, was ignored again. Finland assumed for some reason, the Winter Games of 1952 would definitely be given to them and they started building some facilities well in advance. The 1952 Winter Games went to Oslo and, in consolation, Finland was awarded the 1952 Summer Games which they really did not think they could handle. They knew they could excel at winter sports but did not expect much success with summer events. (The Helsinki Games were a success and brought in more countries for the first time, such as Russia, China and Israel to name a few.)

I went to Finland in 1949 as an International Exchange student to work for 4 months in a viscose mill in Valkeokoski in the north of the country. Having arrived in Helsinki from London on a Russian ship, I was staying in the dorms at the University of Helsinki for a few days. I was hosted by students who were all excited about the premature building of stadiums for the 1952 Winter Games as they knew they had limited opportunities to practice some events with only 3 winters before the expected games.

Such a facility was the new winter sports arena and brand new 90 meter ski jump. They took me to see it and it dominated the park just outside the main city. It was a towering wooden structure with a small elevator and a very large number of steps. I quickly realized that we were trespassing and should not go anywhere near the giant jump. My hosts, or fellow trespassers, tried to get into the elevator room without success but there was nothing to stop us climbing the stairs.

I and two others went to the top past many signs telling us not to and we arrived breathless at the upper cabin. This was designed to hold two ski-jumpers and a starting judge and had a waiting area for about three more skiers outside under a roof. I imagined this all covered in snow and at some very low temperature. One half of the floor was missing and then I realized this was where the jumpers went through as fast as possible to get the initial impulse. Looking out at the close to 45 degree curved wooden slide, it seemed that no-one would be crazy enough to do that when it was covered with a glassy layer of snow.  Looking beyond the curve and seeing nothing but trees in the far distance made it seem even more ridiculous.

One of my companions was a jumper and voiced the excitement of rushing down the slope and then launching ones-self into seeming oblivion. As we turned to leave, I saw  ”Kilroy was here” but I bet he didn’t jump. Quite an interesting thrill just being there and I later thought that it was too bad the Finns could only use it for practice and not competition.

2 thoughts on “Uncommon Place Number Four

  1. I got to see the ski jump used in Calgary for the ’88 winter Olympics. It was February, so snow was abundant. I was able to watch some jumpers at a much lower level. There was a road to the top, so my brother-in-law drove us up there. It was so high and WINDY! I could not imagine rushing headlong off that platform, landing on two skis. Absolutely bonkers!

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