It was over 21 years ago, in December 1992, that junior world champion Janne Ahonen took part in his first FIS Ski Jumping World Cup event on the ramp in Ruhpolding (GER). The Lahti-born athlete would go on to enjoy a fantastic career, completely dominating his chosen discipline for several seasons.
By the time he first retired in 2008, he had amassed 36 World Cup wins and a record-breaking 100 top-three finishes, two crystal globes – in 2004 and 2005 – and 10 World Championship medals, including five golds. Moreover, he was the only jumper to have recorded five victories at the prestigious Four Hills Tournament (in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008).
Despite his iconic status, Ahonen never managed to add an individual Olympic medal to the two silvers he won in the large hill team event at Salt Lake City 2002 and Turin 2006. Citing a lack of motivation to train, he decided to hang up his skis at the end of the 2007-2008 season, bidding farewell to the sport in front of an appreciative 10,000-strong crowd in Lahti.
Back to the future… twice!
Preoccupied by his lack of individual Olympic success, the steadfast Finn opted to come out of retirement ahead of Vancouver 2010, with the aim of improving on his two fourth-place finishes in 1998 and 2002. During the 2009-2010 campaign, he appeared on the World Cup podium a further five times, extending his own record to 108, but again fell short at the Games, finishing fourth in the normal hill individual competition at Whistler Olympic Park. Subsequently, he announced his retirement for a second time at the age of 33, this time seemingly for good.
However, by the end of November 2013, Ahonen could again be found competing on the World Cup stage in Klingenthal (GER). “I first thought about coming back last winter,” he told the German media. “I was watching a ski jumping event on TV and I said to myself: ‘Oh, that kind of weather would be perfect for me; that would be a great competition.’ I started to wonder if I still had it in me to compete at the top. I began to think about it more and more. I really missed it.”
The inferior results registered by the Finnish team also played a role in his decision. “That was also a factor. As ski jumping in Finland was in a bit of a rut, I thought my return could maybe be of help. Our country is in desperate need of success, as am I. I love this kind of situation – I need that pressure,” he explained.
After his latest return to the ramp, Ahonen set himself two objectives: another victory in his beloved Four Hills Tournament, and Sochi 2014, where he hopes to finally land an individual medal in what will be his sixth Olympic Games. “I’m aware that everyone – apart from my friends and the ski jumping community, who know I still have a chance – is quite sceptical about it,” he states honestly. “Without that support, I wouldn’t even attempt this. But everybody else, here in Finland and in the media, doesn’t really believe in me. That just increases my motivation and makes me stronger. I have experience on my side. I’m determined, I feel fine, and I’m in good physical shape. If I get my technique completely right on the ramps, anything is possible.”