Ski jumping legend hopes bronze medal will inspire a nation
Affiliated Discipline(s):Ski jumping
Hometown:Ottawa, Ontario (currently residing in Aurora, Ontario)
Active Career Period:1978–1992
Sharing the stage with the Crazy Canucks
Over a career that spanned 14 years, Horst Bulau knew the thrill of victory, having collected 13 World Cup wins and challenging for the coveted overall title. During his best years, Bulau shared the snowsports stage with the original Crazy Canucks; his wins amount to more than the legendary downhillers combined.
Bulau was famous in Europe long before his achievements were fully appreciated in Canada. His outstanding career spanned from 1978-92, during which time he competed in 129 World Cup events producing 13 World Cup wins with 26 podium finishes. He was consistently world-ranked second or third during most of his career. The 1982-83 World Cup season was dominated by Bulau and the Flying Finn Matti Nykanen and together they won 17 of 25 events on the circuit, battling for the overall title where Nykanen beat Bulau by 10 points.
As Bulau shares his memories, it’s clear he has a laundry list of accomplishments: “Being at four Olympics, that stands out for me,” he says. “Winning on the World Cup circuit 13 times. My first win in Garmisch, January 1, 1981. [And coming in] third overall twice and second overall once in the World Cup.”
Still, his success abroad failed to inspire the same excitement at home, despite a massive global following. But when the Canadian ski jumping team won a bronze medal in the mixed team event at Beijing 2022 – the first ever Olympic ski jumping medal for Canada – nobody was more surprised, and excited than Canadian ski jumping legend.
The Canadian team being awarded a bronze medal in the ski jumping mixed team event at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Photo: Marck-Blinch/COC
Back on the podium
“It was very exciting to watch, it was remarkable really,” he said from his office at McLaren Toronto. “A few things fell in their favour but that’s the luck of the draw sometimes and how things happen. They did their best and hit their marks and did what they had to do.”
The 2022 Canadian bronze medal team – Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes, Alexandra Loutitt, Abigail Strate and Matthew Souk –train in Slovenia due to the limited ski jumping facilities in Canada. But the success in Beijing, Bulau hopes, will be much needed exposure and a much needed boost for the future of the sport in Canada.
Legacy of success
After Calgary 1988, Bulau retired and briefly coached. He returned to ski jumping to compete at Albertville 1992, but did not have enough time to really master the new “V” Style, and after the Games in France, he retired at the age of 30. It would be the last time a Canadian jumper would appear on the Olympic stage until the 2006 Winter Games 14 years later.
Despite the sport’s decline in Canada, Bulau – who singlehandedly raised the profile of ski jumping in Canada – sees some positive signs: “During my time it was a higher profile sport, it was more on the Canadian horizon but it’s still one of the highest ranking TV events during the Olympics in Canada.”
Calgary Ski Jumps. Photo courtesy Canada Olympic Park
“It’s an outstanding sport,” Bulau said. “The sensation of flying is incredible. It’s a massive sport in Europe with 40 to 50,000 spectators sometimes; to be part of that is incredible.”
Horst Bulau. Courtesy McLaren Toronto.
A brighter future?
In 1996 Sport Canada dropped funding for ski jumping due to a lack of international results. Shortly afterward, Big Thunder, a top training facility in Thunder Bay was shut down and abandoned. The Calgary jumps closed and the ones in Callaghan, built for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, are rarely open for training.
According to Bulau, the next step for ski jumping in the country is for clubs and associations to grow from the grassroots. And for better utilization of the only existing ski jump facility in Canada – at Callaghan Valley near Whistler. Bulau commented that in his youth ski jumping clubs were sprinkled across the country and kids had the chance to compete and train closer to home, keeping the costs down and opportunities for exposure and development high.
As an 18-year-old Bulau arrived at his first Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid 1980 as the reigning world junior champion, leaving with modest results. He competed at the next three Olympic Winter Games, producing three top-10 finishes. The highlight of his Olympic career was finishing seventh on the large hill at Calgary 1988, a result which was the best finish by a Canadian ski jumper at the Olympics … until the Canadian mixed team event bronze medal finish in Beijing.
The results of the young Canadians, along with the leadership of Boyd-Clowes, could point to a change in the direction of the sport in Canada.
Horst Bulau in a 1984 ski jumping competition. Photo credit: Athlete Information Bureau.
“I didn’t think a medal was possible, so it really meant everything to me. I’ve been doing the sport for 23 years and I haven’t seen ski jumping in Canada get a boost yet, so I’m hoping this might do something,” said Boyd-Clowes to CBC in Beijing.