Cooper in action at the Winter Youth Olympic Games
Think of British ski jumping and one name immediately springs to mind – Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards.
It is 32 years since the plasterer from Gloucester captured hearts at the 1988 Winter Olympics with his plucky attempts as he finished a distant last in the normal and large hill competitions.
Fast forward to 2020 and 16-year-old Mani Cooper has made history herself at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland – as Britain’s first female ski jumper in an Olympic competition.
Granted, Britain has only had three other ski jumpers; Sepp Muehlbauer, who was Swiss but competed for the Ski Club of Great Britain in the 1928 Games, the aforementioned Edwards and Glynn Pedersen who represented GB at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Cooper competes in Nordic combined, which is ski jumping and cross-country skiing rolled into one event. Her ski jumping record is 96 metres, five metres further than Pedersen managed on the large hill in 2002, and 25 metres further than Edwards in Calgary.
At the Winter Youth Olympics she finished 19th, while another Briton at the event, 17-year-old male ski jumper Sam Bolton, finished 18th.
Before she competed Cooper received a good luck video message from Edwards who told her to “have fun and jump well”.
Cooper said: “That’s so amazing, really cool. I’ve met him and he’s a really nice guy to chat to. Although I did jump further than him on my home hill!”
Kettering-born Cooper did not know it was a sport until she moved to Austria with her family in 2012 and went to watch the legendary Four Hills Tournament.
“As soon as I saw it I wanted to try it. I can’t really remember why but I think it was seeing them flying through the air,” she said.
Her father was reticent and showed her footage of crashes to warn her of the dangers, but Cooper was adamant she wanted to give ski jumping a go – and at the age of 10 she did.
“It is quite scary when something goes wrong,” she said. “I’ve had some crashes. My ski binding came off once and when I jumped I realised my ski was not on. But it doesn’t happen very often.
“When you do a good jump, you know it is. It lifts you up and you have a smile on your face when you land.”
‘It’s all about progress, progress, progress’
She added the cross-country element when she joined the regional squad called the Tyrolean Ski Federation and enjoys the different skills the two disciplines need.
Cooper said: “Combining the two is very special. In ski jumping you have to be explosive when you jump whereas in cross-country you need endurance, but you also need pace.”
Women’s ski jumping debuted in the 2014 Games, and in 2022 Nordic combined will be added to the Olympic programme for women – 98 years after men first competed in it.
“This competition [Winter Youth Olympics] has been amazing and it’s very much a stepping stone,” Cooper said.
“It’s all about progress, progress, progress and improving. My big aim is to compete at Beijing 2022 in the first women’s Nordic combined event.”
What’s it like for an athlete at the Winter Youth Olympics?