Five Guys and a Sewing Machine

Inge ScheveMarch 24, 2011

Olympic and World Championship gold medalists touring the world with a sewing machine? Professional athletes have unique and interesting ways of reducing stress and passing the time on the road, but sewing is not the new hobby of the US Nordic Combined, though I am sure the ski world would love to see what Todd Lodwick could come up with for the Oscars.

The sewing machine is a critical part of the racing gear the squad needs to compete at the highest level. The issue at hand is that the FIS rulebook it as thick as the New York City Yellow Pages. The rule book details every part of the jumping competition, including equipment rules. And that’s not to be taken lightly, although the FIS officials seem to interpret them differently every time, the guys explained.

So to be on the safe side, the nordic combined skiers generally check in the day before the competition to get their suits cleared by the local FIS technical delegates, as they interpret the rules and with their measuring tapes. If you show up on race day with a suit that is not within the standards, you get disqualified, no exceptions.

The suit, which is made of a foam-like material, cannot be more than 5 millimeters thick. No part of the suit can be more than 6 centimeters wider than the body part it covers.

Bryan Fletcher and a fully legal suit - at least it was legal at the FIS control the previous day.

There are rules for how many panels of material the suits can be made from ,and how they have to be designed. For instance, the torso section is made from no more than 6 panels: two in the front, two in the back and one on each side. The distance from the seam front side to the seam on the front side on the other side has to be the same.

Additionally, there are individual measurements that have to be considered, based on the racer’s height. For instance, Taylor Fletcher’s inseam – as measured from the center of the crotch to the ankle cuff – has to be exactly 84 centimeters, not 85 or 83.

The veterans on the US Nordic combined team has been through the routine more times than they care to recall. And accordingly, they travel the world with a sewing machine. The seamstress on the team? Bryan Fletcher has shown that he has a good handle on the art.

“We waste a lot of time and money on suits,” Johnny Spillane said with a sarcastic grin.

Teammate Billy Demong sighed and agreed:

“We spend more time dealing with jump suits than anything else in this sport.”

The team landed on Norwegian soil on February 15, and made a beeline for the suit factory Spinno in Vikersund. A new shipment of suits was waiting, the skiers as excited as children on Christmas Day.

“You know the feeling right off the bat. It makes everything else so much easier. You can rely on a good suit to perform. But the best guys still win,” Todd Lodwick said.

However, the Nordic combined obsession with suits, fabrics, designs and measurements can easily be compared to the cross-country skiers’ scientific approach to picking and collecting skis. Cross-country skiers generally have a large selection of skis with all kinds of grinds and flexes. On the jumping side, nordic combined skiers don’t worry as much about skis, grinds and flexes, and often having one pair of jumping skis. So much is literally riding on the suits, or perhaps more aptly, in the suit.

Inge Scheve

Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.

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