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Fearless Flyers

A couple of months short of his fourteenth birthday and weighing in at a mere 35 kilograms, William Kalfoss does not show any signs of fear as he stands at the top of the Midtstubakken ski jump, preparing to fly through the air at 85 kilometres an hour. 'I hope I can get closer to 80 metres. My last jump wasn't very good. I can do better,' William says.

The view from the top of a ski jump is breathtaking, but to aim a pair of skis straight down the hill and let go takes a special mentality. For three years, Fredrik Naumann has followed the youngest recruits to the Norwegian national sport, some as young as six years old. He saw them make their first wobbly jumps and he has witnessed many hard and soft landings since, as well as the injuries, the joy and the tears that accompanied them. Participating in his first competition in 2008, then eight-year-old Oskar Mortensen was incredibly proud to have his best jump measured to six and a half metres. 'It wasn't scary, and I didn't fall a single time!' he proudly told his father.

Midtstuen is one of the venues for the 2011 Nordic Skiing World Championships in Oslo. In September 2010, as the finishing touches were applied to the brand new arena, William and his friends were given a rare opportunity to jump there alongside some of the stars of the sport. They had come a long way from Schroderbakken, the poorly lit little hill in the forest where it all started.

There have been many cold and dark evenings in the forest. Sondre Ringen broke his leg and had to be carried on a stretcher to a nearby road. Some of the children have found other interests while others, like William, have graduated to bigger hills.

Their progress is crucial to national pride. The Oslo area has fostered many World Champions, but recently it was estimated there were less than 50 children under the age of 12 actively ski jumping.

Lack of funding has closed many of the smaller ski jumps, a number of them left derelict for nature to take over. Competition from activities like snowboarding and computer games has also challenged recruitment to the sport. It is hoped the new Oslo arena, which will include five smaller jumps with year round facilities, will ensure the survival of this unique national sport.
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