Natalia Berdnikava. Twenty-four feet. That’s how much Natallia Berdnikava improved her jump distances the last three seasons. She went from jumps in the 160s in 2009 to her world-record leap of 192 feet this June. In the last year alone, she’s broken the world jump record three times, and she also set a new overall world record by running 3 at 38 off, tricking 9,740 points and jumping 190 feet. Although a knee injury in mid-July kept her sidelined for the rest of the 2012 season, we bet she’ll be back stronger than ever, with many more titles and records to come.
WATERSKI: In two short seasons, your jumping has dramatically improved. Did 188 feet seem like a realistic goal to you a few years ago?
Natallia Berdnikava: Absolutely not. Even at the beginning of the 2011 season, I had no thought of jumping that far. Back in 2008, I started feeling like I had the ability to jump 180 feet, but a bad crash really set me back. I tore my PCL (posterior cruciate liga- ment), but the worst part was, it really affected my confidence. I felt like I was literally starting over. By 2009, I was just happy to be jumping 50 meters (165 feet).
WS: So, when did you begin to set your sights on the world record?
NB: It happened at the first event of 2011, the Moomba Masters. I finished second with 172 feet, and it really sparked something inside me. I flew back to Florida from the tournament and took a jump set the same day I landed. I’d always felt I skied a lot, but suddenly I began to feel as though I had been slacking. I started jumping a lot, and when I wasn’t jumping I was thinking about jumping. It totally consumed me. The added water time made me far more consistent on my skis, and my confidence began to climb as a result.
WS: Where do you gauge your limit now? Are you going to be the first woman to jump 200 feet?
NB: I don’t like to think about it too much, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind. When I watch video of my world-record jump, I see so many mistakes — mistakes that easily took 10 to 15 feet off that jump. I need to get out of my comfort zone and start seeing a different picture of the ramp as I start my turn. I don’t need to get all crazy; I just need to be a little less comfortable out there. Right now my focus is on 190 feet, and I’ll just go from there.
WS: Who’s driving you to stay on top of your game?
NB: Obviously, when June [Fladborg] broke the record in 2010, that got me fired up. Right now, it’s Jacinta Carroll who’s inspiring me. She’s such a good little skier. She really wanted her win at Moomba (2011), and she just worked hard and took it. I may be a little different from other skiers, though. I ski at Travers Ski School with the guys out there, and no one else. I don’t train with any of the other girls, so I never know what they’re doing. In a way, I feel it really helps me; it makes me work harder.
Story: Trent Finlayson; Photos: Todd Ristorcelli