Flying high on a Winter Olympics mission | Mani Cooper, Nordic Combined
We talked to Mani in Austria as she prepared to return to school for what promises to be a seminal year for one of Britain’s most promising snowsport athletes.
When did you first discover Nordic Combined?
I first discovered ski-jumping in 2012 after watching the Bergisel Four Hills ski-jumping Tournament in Innsbruck with my Dad. I was hooked straight away. Even after my dad showed me videos of ski-jumping crashes, I still wanted to try it and I told him I wanted to start!
At the age of 10 I started having fun ski-jumping near Innsbruck with my local club `SV Innsbruck Bergisel.’ After 2 years I got into the regional squad (the Tyrolian Ski Federation -TSV) and started competing in the new sport of Nordic Combined (Ski-jumping and Cross-Country skiing) taking part in Austrian National Competitions and Championships.
Ski-jumping alone wasn’t enough. I wanted more as I had always liked lots of different sports when growing up in the UK so by adding in the cross-country to the ski-jumping I knew Nordic Combined was my sport!
Where are you training currently?
I now attend the specialist Stams Ski Academy School in Tirol, which is a sports school specially focused on Skiing, Snowboarding and ski-jumping. There are only 3 in the whole of Austria so it’s great to be there. Since starting in 2018 I am now competing in FIS and Alpine Cup Events across Europe. This year I am working towards competing at the first Nordic World championships (held every 2 years) with women’s Nordic Combined included and looking at Winter Olympics qualification in 2026 where my event is included for the first time.
What does your training involve?
I train at Schigymnasium Stams every week from Monday to Saturday. We normally go jumping 3 or 4 times a week together with ski roller or Cross-Country skiing. In addition, we also do a lot of gym work and fast jumping exercises. Every week is different as the training plan depends on what is coming up the following week and whether we have any competitions.
How does a Nordic Combined competition work?
A Nordic Combined competition weekend normally starts with a Ski Jumping competition, then using the points and ranking from that a Cross-Country race follows. Alternatively, the mass start format is occasionally used. This is where the Cross-Country race takes place before the Ski Jumping competition, everybody starts together, and the result is finally decided in the Ski Jumping.
What is it about the sport of Nordic Combined that you love?
It’s never boring for a start! With ski-jumping you have to be fast, have good reactions. The same in cross-country when you are taking corners and going downhill. It’s all about endurance and making sure you have the right equipment.
I was at the Youth Olympics earlier this year representing GB and got the whole experience which was a real privilege for me. I’m really looking forward to the future.
What skills do you need to have to be a top-level ski jumper?
For me personally it’s to never doubt yourself. Nordic Combined is basically 2 very different sports so it’s important for me to know my goals and be focussed and confident. The combination of the 2 sports means it always allows you to catch up. If you have a poor ski-jump you can always make it up in the cross-country and vice-versa and it’s important for me that I know that.
What sort of equipment do you need?
For ski jumping I need my jumping skis which are 228m long, helmet, googles, gloves, jumping boots and one of the most important things is the jumping suit. With Ski Jumping the suit can make a big difference on the performance in a competition. I have a few training suits but one competition suit which is fitted specially for me.
For Cross-Country skiing I have a race suit, a head band, glasses, poles, boots, and, of course, skis. The skis are very important, if you have the wrong ski for the many different snow conditions then the race is over. Each athlete has pairs of skis for different snow conditions as there are some big differences between wet snow, hard snow, artificial snow, or if the sun is shining, or it is snowing, or raining it all comes down to the ski testing which is done before the race to select the right ski.
What goes through your mind at the top of the jump?
If you think too much about the distance you need to make you lose focus and don’t do the technical points which make the metres. Everyone’s different but for me personally if I’m mentally prepared, relaxed and calm I perform to my best. I need to be calm and be by myself and take it one step at a time.
When I was at the Youth Olympics earlier this year I kept calm and took it one step at a time. I’ve had competitions where I’ve wanted the distance too much and lost technical points so staying clam is vital.
What’s the furthest distance you’ve jumped?
My unofficial record in training is 96m and in competition I’ve jumped 74m! I don’t compete for the British record though. It’s amazing if I get a record but I just want to do my best and do the best jump I can in the competition I am in at the time.
Have you ever crashed?
Yes I’ve crashed in both sports! Crashing at ski jumping is clearly more major. There’s one thing you’re not supposed to do in ski-jumping which is pull your legs in. And I have done that before which didn’t end well! I had one major crash in Norway where my back bindings came open on my 3rd jump (!) and I crashed but I’ve never had a major problem so I’m very lucky and grateful for that!
You are Britain’s first female ski jumper in an Olympic competition after the Winter Youth Olympics in Lausanne.
Yes, I am but I want the world to know I’m a Nordic Combined athlete not just a ski jumper. There’s a big difference and it’s important for me that people know that. Of course I focus my training on one versus the other but I am Mani Cooper, Nordic Combined athlete.
I do also like to mix things up with my training to keep things interesting and enter bike races for example.
What ambitions do you have in the sport?
It’s definitely my dream to be Olympic Champion. For now though in this winter season I want to get to the World Cup and be confident and ready for the competitions I enter and work hard to improve all the time. I have my goals and I am happy to work hard & will fight to achieve them! It’s tough though. Every athlete knows every other athlete so whatever competition you are in we all know each other.
I know I have to focus on the World Cup, the competitions and keep going in order to get to the Winter Olympics. The competitions coming up will allow me to see how close I am to the best in the world.
What’s important to you away from your sport? How do you relax?
I love music! And cooking – baking cakes, doing something completely different. Just switching off is really important to me!
I play in a band with my dad and sister! I sing & play the bass, my Dad plays the guitar and my sister the drums. I also enjoy just listening to music and dancing around which is a lot of fun. Those moments allow me to relax and I really enjoy my downtime away from the rigours of Nordic Combined!
What causes are important to you?
The environment is very precious to me given my sport and where I do it – in the snow! The air and the environment and the mountains of the Austrian Tirol are just beautiful. If we see rubbish it breaks my heart and it’s so important we do all we can to keep it as pristine a location as possible.
Who would be your ideal brand to partner with?
I’m just looking to partner with a company that has the right values, offers the right support for me, my team and the Nordic Combined event I love. It such a fantastic event with so many aspects to it that the brand ecosystem is complicated.
I can name so many different companies who are involved in my sport in some way so I’d be happy to partner with one long-term partner if we could work together in the right way.