2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Spotlight: Nina Lussi
Ryan Summerlin October 25, 2013
Nineteen-year-old ski jumper Nina Lussi knew she was ready for Lake Placid’s 90-meter hill the moment her sister said the then-10-year-old Nina should wait before making such a big jump.
That’s not a surprising stance for Lussi, who just two years earlier had taken up ski jumping because her parents signed her younger brother up for a jumping class.
"I’ve been skiing probably longer than I could actually walk," she said. "I started off ski racing in Lake Placid as kind of a weekend thing. My family is all ski racers, except for my aunt. She was an aerialist. During the week, my parents thought it would be a good idea for my younger brother to try jumping. I couldn’t let my younger brother be better than me at something, so I came along."
Though the class started off on an 18-meter hill, Lussi quickly moved up to bigger and better hills, eventually facing the decision of whether or not to jump the 90-meter hill.
"It was the end of the season, in March," Lussi recalled. "We have just a 48 and the 90, so there’s not much of an in-between jump. My coach said, ‘If you want, tomorrow you can come out and jump with the big boys.’ I was 10 at the time and didn’t know. He said, ‘It’s all up to you. If you don’t want to, it’s fine.’"
Lussi wrestled with the decision all that night.
"I didn’t know if I was prepared," she said. "I had missed out on the one competition earlier in the year where they jumped the 60-meter hill, which would have been the perfect transition. But I had suffered a concussion, so I was not jumping that day."
So she went to her older sister, who also jumped at the time, for advice.
"She was like, ‘No, Nina, I don’t think you’re ready. You should just wait,’" Lussi said. "As soon as she said that, I knew I was doing it."
And off she went to join the elite jumpers.
"The next morning I got to the hill and went to the changing room and it was all boys in their late teens and I remember one guy was like, ‘Nina, you know there’s no 48 jumping today, right?’"
Lussi knew, and she successfully completed her first-ever 90-meter jump shortly thereafter.
So what drives Lussi, who moved to Park City in July to ramp up her training, to succeed? Based on trying to be better than her younger brother and going against her sister’s advice, it may seem like she enjoys proving people wrong.
"That’s all I’m in it for," Lussi laughed.
Actually, it’s a much simpler reason.
"I guess you could define me as independent and I think that plays a role in it," she admitted. "But I love flying that’s my favorite part of it. When your hard work finally pays off and you get to fly further than you’ve ever been, it’s amazing. You can’t compare that to anything else."
Now, Lussi will have a chance to earn a spot at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. With three guaranteed Olympic spots and the possibility for a fourth spot based on results at qualifying events, Lussi knows she’ll need to step up her game to represent Team USA.
"Results-wise, I just came off my career-best seventh place at a Continental Cup in Lillehammer, Norway," she said. "That was big for me because I think that gave me a little extra confidence boost. It’s important going into this season."
But the U.S. Ski Team and Women’s Ski Jumping USA member thinks she’s ready for the challenge of the Olympics.
"That’s something I’ve always dreamed about," she said. "Lately, they’re starting to play the Sochi commercials on TV. It makes you stop every time and you just get a little round of goosebumps."
Her coach, Paolo Bernardi, said with Lussi’s talent, Sochi isn’t out of the question. But, he added, there’s certainly no rush for the 19-year-old.
"She can qualify for the Olympic Games I don’t see why not," he said. "But the main goal is not trying to squeeze Nina to have a magic situation where she can do something special once in a while. I want to have her ready to compete over a whole season. Maybe now, if it happens, but also for the future. She’s one of our athletes we’re excited about for the next 10 years."
For now, Lussi is just focusing on the upcoming season and trying not to get too caught up in the Olympic buzz, though that’s nearly impossible.
"I’ve been put more in the spotlight and people are actually paying attention to what I’m doing," she said. "I’ll get emails from old teachers in high school saying, ‘We’re rooting for you, Nina.’ There’s a lot more on the line than you think at first glance."
Whether it’s the Sochi Olympics or the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, Lussi said the Olympics are at the top of her career bucket list.
"That’s the ultimate thing I’m waiting to do," she said.