Next to Urša Bogataj, who dominated this year’s Summer Grand Prix, three other competitors managed to achieve a victory in the series. And although when it comes to Sara Takanashi and Marita Kramer, their wins were no surprise, Irina Avvakumova’s triumph in her home game in Tchaikovsky may not have been such a sure thing for the rest of the elite. Of course, the Russian jumper didn’t come out of nowhere, but will she be able to keep that kind of performance up in the winter as well?
On September 14 of this year, Irina Avvakumova turned 30. She had given herself an excellent birthday present two days earlier, having won a Summer Grand Prix competition in Tchaikovsky. This meant that the experienced Russian jumper – who had previously achieved top 3 results 5 times in 2012-2017 – finally jumped onto the highest podium step. Interestingly, four of her five top 3 results had happened at the Snezhinka ski jumps. This time, she achieved this feat on the large hill, where she defeated several greats, including the summer overall winner, Urša Bogataj, and the Norwegian Silje Opseth. “During the summer, not all of the best ski jumpers participated in the competitions, so it’s hard to talk about my complete readiness. Still, I was jumping well, I was able to complete all the tasks set by my coach, and I also did a good job with my ‘problem areas’. When I come to Tchaikovsky, it’s like jumping at home. You could say that even the walls help me there. I definitely prefer jumping in Tchaikovsky to Nizhny Tagil,” says Avvakumova.
Although Irina likes jumping on the Snezhinka hills better than on Tramplin Stork, the fact is that the ladies’ winter season inauguration is scheduled to be held in Nizhny Tagil. So far, the best rank achieved by the Moscow native in the Ural Mountains was the 5th place she managed back in 2016. During the Blue Bird Tour in March, coach Roman Kerov’s athlete reached for the 10th and 12th place there. However, Avvakumova has decided against setting any specific goals for herself in terms of her result during the first weekend of the winter season. “When the winter comes, then it will be time to speak about goals. For now, the most important thing is to enter the season with the optimal preparations,” admits the jumper, who has the silhouette of a ski jumper with the five Olympic rings tattooed on her side. This seems to say everything about Avvakumova’s athletic motivation.
In addition to having won one of this year’s summer events in Tchaikovsky, Irina also has a World Cup win behind her belt. That achievement took place in 2014 in the same place. At that time, another athlete, who would go on to dominate elite-level ski jumping in the future – Maren Lundby – took 12th place. Currently, the 27-year-old Norwegian is battling difficulties due to some extra weight. Is this problem plaguing more athletes? “I’ve also struggled with this problem and I understand very well how difficult it is to get back into top shape and maintain the optimal weight. That’s just our lifestyle,” summed up the Russian. As it turns out, the two athletes also have one more thing in common … a love for soccer. This summer, Lundby ended up paying that passion off with a concussion. Could that be a risk for Avvakumova, who participates in women’s league competitions? “Ski jumping is a difficult sport, in which coordination and motor skills play an important role. In order to achieve the best results, there are many aspects to develop, and practicing all kinds of sports can help with that. Is that risky? Probably yes, but the risk is with us always and everywhere,” she acknowledges.
Besides the 30-year-old from Moscow, there are more and more Russian jumpers who are beginning to show their skills and seem to have a solid standing for the future. It’s enough to mention that Russia has two junior world champions in its ranks from 2015 and 2019 – Sofia Tikhonova and Anna Shpyneva, as well as a junior world vice champion from two years ago, Lidiia Iakovleva, who has also already managed to win a World Cup event (in Lillehammer in 2018). However, none of the Russian ladies have yet succeeded in achieving a podium rank in the World Cup overall rankings, nor have they won a senior world championship or Olympic medal. What’s missing in terms of achieving this type of success? “That’s hard to say, because everyone in the team is working their hardest – the coach, the service technician, the doctor, the athletes… This work should ultimately produce a result. I suppose it all takes time,” guessed Avvakumova. When we asked her whether she sees a future for herself on the hill for as long as her 37-year-old Austrian competitor, Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, she replied: “I have a youthful team around me that gives me energy, but still, people do not get any younger as time passes. The question of how long I will be jumping will remain unanswered for the time being.”
There are also many indications that much like Maren Lundby, Avvakumova would still like to get a taste of ski flying in her career. She herself claims that there are currently more international-level competitors who are capable of completing safe jumps on a ski flying hill than representatives of the International Ski Federation estimate. “I think that there are about 30 girls in the world who are ready to start in a ski flying competition, although allowing all female jumpers to participate in these types of competitions would be dangerous. Ski flying is like a separate sport. For this, you need to be prepared to the maximum of your capabilities.”
Although the Russian ski jumpers’ skill level is systematically improving and new ski jump facilities are popping up all over the place for our Eastern neighbors, it most likely can’t be said that this sports discipline has captured the interest of local fans to a great extent. Hockey remains the most popular winter sport in Russia, and other than that, soccer and combat sports invariably attract huge amounts of attention. Is the leader of the Russian ski jumping ladies’ team a recognizable figure in the country? “Does it count if I’m recognized by my friends and family? No, I don’t really get recognized when I pass people by on the street, they don’t ask for my autograph. ‘Being a star’ is definitely not a story about me,” she ends with a laugh.
Bartosz Leja, own information,
translated by Anna Libera