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Olympic ski jumper swaps skis for helicopter skids

December 9, 2015

Helicopter pilot Thomas Morgenstern has finished in bronze medal position in the FAI World Air Games Parallel Slalom and Fender competition here in Dubai. The final to decide the gold and silver medallists will take place tomorrow (December 10).

But when former Olympic gold medal winner Morgenstern, flying here with his teammate Stefan Seer, crashed during a ski jump at the start of 2014, it looked like his career as a professional athlete was over.

He'd already won three Olympic gold medals for ski jumping. But just weeks before the Sochi winter Olympics, this crash sent his unprotected body hurtling down the 200m landing slope until he came to a slumped stop.

Physically his injuries would heal, but psychologically the crash ended his career. "The fear level was just too high," said Morgenstern, who nevertheless went on to win one more Olympic medal - a silver - before he quit.

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That silver is a measure of his resilience. The same resilience that has lead him to start a new sporting career as a competitive helicopter pilot.

"There are some similarities with ski jumping," he said. "To the spectators it doesn't look very physical, but it requires the same psychological strength. You have to stay in the moment, let it run, be focused. Calmness."

Morgenstern took up flying helicopters in 2012, and this year won the Junior World Championship in Poland for pilots with less than 250 hours of airtime.

"When I started I felt fear, during the first 30 hours, when it was windy or unpredictable situations. But my confidence has grown as I learnt what to do."

He finds the atmosphere of the sport very different to ski jumping.

"In ski jumping, everyone just wants to win. But in this sport, it's like a family," said Morgenstern, referring to the 40-person team of competitors and race officials. "Everyone just wants to make the sport more popular."

The Russian team has already invited him to visit their training camp next year, where some of the strongest competitors and coaches are based.

Rotorcraft races are due to be held each day at the Palm Dropzone until the final on Thursday.

By Andy Pag

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