Speaking in January 2012, the four-time reigning Olympic ski jumping champion Simon Ammann discussed his decision to defend his titles at his fifth and final Games in Sochi: “I made my mind up last summer, but I needed a little time before making it public,” said the 30-year-old star, who won two golds at both Salt Lake 2002 and Vancouver 2010 and is the only man in his sport to have achieved such a feat. “Sochi is an especially important objective for me, and not just for sporting reasons. My Russian wife Yana and I have an emotional connection with the host nation.”
Ammann grew up on his parents’ farm in Unterwasser, a little village in the Swiss canton of St Gallen. Displaying a natural flair for ski jumping as a young boy, he won his first competition at the age of eight. After earning a place on the national youth team was selected for Nagano 1998, but the 18-year old failed to make much impression.
The appointment of Berni Schödler as Switzerland’s national ski jumping coach proved a turning point for Ammann, who showed how much he had developed in mental, physical and technical terms with a string of superlative performances on the Park City ski hill at Salt Lake City 2002. Though not regarded among the favourites for gold in the K90 event, the Swiss youngster pulled out two jumps to earn 269 points overall and top the podium from Germany’s Sven Hannavald and Poland’s Adam Malysz. Three days later he soared to glory once again, this time on the large hill, putting together two jumps in excess of 140m to pocket a second gold and set the seal on one of the biggest success stories of the 2002 Games. Having catapulted himself to global stardom, Ammann was dubbed “Harry Potter” by the world’s media on account of his resemblance to the JK Rowling character.
A new goal in Vancouver
Having secured a first Olympic double, Amman then endured a fallow period. Unable to defend his titles at Turin 2006, he also went several seasons without a World Cup win. However the 2009/10 season saw him return to top form. He underlined his resurgence at the Vancouver Games, breaking the Games normal hill record at Whistler with a jump of 108m to win the Olympic final and the third gold of his career. Then, just as he had done eight years earlier, he secured an even more emphatic victory on the large hill, outperforming the rest of the field with jumps of 144m and 138m to win by a full 14 points from runner-up Adam Malysz. That success earned Ammann a place in history as the only ski jumper to win four gold medals.
That season would turn out to be the best of his career. In addition to his Vancouver double, he won nine FIS Ski Jumping World Cup events to take the overall title, and then claimed gold the 2010 Ski Flying World Championships in Planica with a jump of 236.5m.
Ammann has maintained a high standard ever since, and despite suffering niggling back problems in the summer of 2013, he is intent on peaking for the Sochi Games. “Simon is a unique ambassador for ski jumping in Switzerland,” said Schödler. “He will be a leader for our young athletes will have a leader at the 2014 Olympic Games, where they can follow in his footsteps with their eyes closed.”
Asked if Ammann is planning to hang up his skis after the Games, his coach replied: “Simon hasn’t made a decision yet. It’s not even a topic of discussion.” For now his only concern will be how to add even more lustre to an already glittering Olympic record.
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