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Modern alpine racers are typically hulking figures,

lifting weights and-if rumors are to be believed-perhaps even consuming steroids in a constant bid to add speed-enhancing mass to their frames. Ironically, modern ski jumping has seen the opposite phenomenon: jumpers striving to lose weight, often to unhealthy degrees.

Here’s the skinny: Over the past two decades, jumpers have found that the less they weigh and the longer their skis are, the longer they can remain airborne-and therefore the farther they can fly. Because officials have capped ski length, international jumping stars have had to resort to drastic weight-loss regimens to improve distances. With jumping competitions racking up big ratings on European television, disturbingly underfed flyers have begun raising eyebrows. One race official worries about youth entering a sport “which requires dieting to a point of illness.”

To attack the problem, the FIS introduced stringent guidelines this season to regulate ski length in relation to height and weight. For instance, a five-foot-seven-inch jumper weighing 127.6 pounds (including clothing and boots) may no longer use skis longer than 250 cm. If he reduces his weight further, he’ll have to jump on shorter skis, taking away any competitive advantage-and the desire to skip dessert.

DECEMBER 2004