Poland’s premier winter Olympian
With three gold medals in total after Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018, Polish ski jumper Kamil Stoch is his country’s most decorated Winter Olympian of all time. Hitting his very best form at the age of 30, he completed a clean sweep in the Four Hills Tournament in January 2018 and then followed up by winning his third Olympic gold and the overall World Cup title at the season’s end.
Home is where the heart is
Kamil Stoch was born and brought up in Zakopane, a well-known ski resort in southern Poland, tucked away in the heart of the Tatra Mountains. The young Pole has a special relationship with his home hill, the venue for his World Cup debut as a 16-year-old in January 2004, and also the site of his first win seven years later. Cheered on by over 45,000 fans on each occasion, Stoch also tasted victory at Zakopane in 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2018 − a year in which he also helped Poland claim a team win on his favourite hill.
After making little impact at his first two Olympic appearances at Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010, Stoch upped his game in 2011, playing an increasingly prominent role in the FIS World Cup before pulling out jumps of 131.5m and 130m to win the individual large hill world title at Val di Fiemme (ITA) in February 2013. “My life isn’t going to change,” he said modestly after being chaired off the hill in triumph. “I’ve finally reached a goal and achieved one of my dreams. It’s great to have done that.”
Sochi part one
The Pole arrived at Sochi 2014 as the leader of the FIS World Cup (which he would go on to win for the very first time), and immediately stamped his authority in the final of the men’s normal hill at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre. His first jump of 105.5m put him over six points clear of his closest pursuers, Anders Bardal of Norway and Slovenia’s Peter Prevc. Proving he was in a class of his own, Stoch then went out and jumped 103.5m to land his first Olympic title with plenty to spare, ahead of silver medallist Prevc and third-placed Bardal.
Sochi part two
A few days later, the flying Pole became only the third ski jumper in history to win both individual events, emulating the achievements of Finland’s Matti Nykänen in 1988 and Switzerland’s Simon Ammann in 2002 and 2010.
“It’s amazing. I can’t believe it,” said the 26-year-old, who overcame tricky winds to pip Japanese veteran Noriaki Kasai to the large hill title by a mere 1.3 points. “I made such a big mistake in the second round, I don’t know how I jumped so far… I was too aggressive. That’s why I flew so far, but hey, what the heck? That’s why I won.”
Onwards and upwards
The Polish jumper enjoyed a 2016/17 season to remember, making up for some slightly underwhelming form on the World Cup stage in the wake of his Sochi 2014 double. He kicked off in January by winning the prestigious Four Hills Tournament for the first time in his career, and then scored superb victories in Zakopane, Lillehammer (NOR), Wisla (POL), Sapporo (JPN) and Vikersund (NOR) in a thrilling duel with Germany’s Stefan Kraft at the top of the World Cup standings.
Though Kraft eventually took the title by a margin of 141 points, Stoch would find consolation at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti (FIN), where he jumped superbly with Dawid Kubacki, Maciej Kot and Piotr Zyla to help Poland with their first-ever team title ahead of Austria, Germany and Norway. Three weeks later in Planica (SLO), he set a Polish ski flying record with a leap of 251.5m, which was also a hill record. 2017 ended with him being named Polish Sports Personality of the Year for a second time, after 2014.
Four hills glory
The following year could not have begun in better fashion for Stoch, who won at Oberstdorf (GER), Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GER), Innsbruck (AUT) and Bischofshofen (AUT) to complete only the second Four Hills clean sweep in history after Germany’s Sven Hannawald accomplished the feat in 2002.
Further victories came his way in the Willigen Five, Planica7 and Raw Air tournaments, while the Pole also secured his second World Cup crown in a season that brought 10 wins in all and 14 podium finishes, with one of those wins coming in the large hill at PyeongChang 2018, his third Olympic title.
More Olympic medals
That momentous victory came after Stoch had relinquished his Olympic normal hill title, with jumps of 105.5m and 106.5m leaving him fourth in a competition won by Germany’s Andreas Wellinger. A week later the Pole was back to his very best, flying out to 136.5m with his second jump to beat Wellinger and Norway’s Robert Johansson and becoming the first man to retain the large hill crown since Finland’s Nykänen, a gold medallist in the event in 1984 and 1988.
“It feels like I’m dreaming, and it’s not going to stop. And it’s a wonderful dream too,” said Stoch after totalling 285.7 points to beat the Austrian by a comfortable margin. Praising his wife Ewa, he added: “I don’t have enough time to say just how grateful I am for her support. My wife is the greatest gift I’ve ever had in my life.”
Joined by Kot, Stefan Hula and Kubacki, Stoch then played his part as Poland won bronze in the large hill team, their first Olympic medal in an event that first appeared on the programme at Calgary 1988. Norway took the gold and Germany the silver.
“We fought right till the end and we have a lovely medal,” said Stoch. The honours continued to come thick and fast for Poland’s greatest Winter Olympian of all time, including a stamp bearing his image, issued in April 2018 by the Polish Postal Service.