Former ski jumper Tomten’s athleticism pays off for Gophers

Sophomore Berit Tomten helped the novice team to a Big Ten title last season.

Mike Mullen

Seven years ago, Berit Tomten’s ski-jumping career peaked with a 92-meter jump while training in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

Two years ago, Tomten was scratching and clawing on Minnesota’s rugby team.

These days, you’ll find Tomten on the Mississippi River every morning with Minnesota’s rowing team.

“Berit is an excellent athlete,” said John Flynn, who coached the sophomore when she was on last year’s novice team. “She definitely has a very good body sense.”

That sense might have come from 10 years of ski jumping, a sport which Tomten started at age 5 on ramps that she now calls “bumps.”

“People hear ‘ski jumping’ and they’re just like, ‘Whoa, that’s freaky,’ ” Tomten said. “But really, there’s a buildup (to bigger jumps), so you’re always comfortable with the jump you’re taking.”

Despite Tomten’s individual success – she finished 16th at the Junior World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland – there is no U.S. women’s ski jumping team, so the sport could have only taken her so far.

“It’s not really recognized as of right now,” Tomten said. “They’re struggling just to get funding.”

Tomten also swam in high school. Her coach told her that if she chose not to keep swimming in college, she should try her hand in a boat.

Rowing coach Wendy Davis said that while rowing calls mainly upon technique and endurance, Tomten’s experience as a ski jumper still helps her on the water.

“You can tell she’s very used to competition,” Davis said. “It all goes back to the whole toughness thing – she just carries herself a certain way.”

Both Davis and Flynn commented on Tomten’s work ethic, rating it among the best on the squad.

“(Tomten) is tenacious,” Flynn said. “She wants to win – and that’s when it comes to runs on dry land or when we’re racing in the boats.”

Last year’s novice team, made up of freshmen and upperclassmen with no rowing experience, went 7-0 in the regular season and won a Big Ten novice title. Not only was the team undefeated, but its smallest margin of victory was a whopping eight seconds.

Flynn said Tomten rode in the five seat and did more than carry her weight.

“She was really a lot of the power coming from the middle of that boat,” Flynn said. “We had a group of about eight really good people on that team, and Berit still managed to stand out.”

Tomten’s ski-jumping days are over – at least for now – as she said Davis might not like the idea of her hitting a ramp with planks on her feet.

But those close to Tomten said they can still see the attitude that allowed her to fly.

“There’s a certain mentality – (ski jumping) takes guts,” Davis said. “She’s just willing to do things other girls aren’t.”