Nimble Weissflog jumps to a career high
Arguably the high point of German ski jumper Jens Weissflog’s long career was his first gold medal in the competition at Sarajevo in 1984.
It was an early highlight in a career as remarkable for its length as its excellence, which saw Weissflog competing both as an East German and for the unified Germany.
Nicknamed ‘the flea’ on account of his slight build, Weissflog, from Erlabrunn in the Erzgebirge mountains, arrived with a bang at the age of 19 in the 1983-84 season, when he won the prestigious Four Hills competition.
He signalled his intent by setting a world record of 107m, the first of four combined victories in the prestigious event. Just weeks later he arrived at the Games in the former Yugoslavia atop the World Cup leaderboard.
The 5ft 7in tall East German youngster didn’t disappoint, capturing a gold medal in the solo normal hill 70m competition, beating Matti Nykänen of Finland into second place with his second jump of 87m.
The notoriously fiery Nykänen pulled out all the stops to gain revenge in the Large Hill, however, and recorded two near-perfect jumps, leaving him to take silver with two leaps of 107m.
Weissflog left the Games having made his mark, and won gold in the Normal Hill at the World Championships in Seefeld, Austria the following year, consolidating his victory with a bronze in the team event. He would win a further World gold in the individual normal hill in 1989.
In total, Weissflog collected three World Championship silvers in the individual large hill and team large hill, and four bronzes, along with his two golds. And he collected a gold medal in 1985 and a bronze five years later at the FIS Ski Flying World Championships – a more extreme version of ski jumping.
But his Olympic career after Sarajevo was dogged by setbacks, and he struggled to adapt to the new V-style jumping technique, introduced to replace the parallel style.
At the 1988 Games he placed ninth in the normal hill 31st on the large hill. And in 1992 his performance was even worse.
These ups and downs, coupled with the exacting physical demands and hazards of ski jumping, might have persuaded other competitors to call time on their career. But Weissflog kept jumping – and there were highlights in these lean years, such as his ski jump competition victories at the famous Holmenkollen festival in 1989 and 1990.
But after a gradual return to form he took his place in the unified German team at the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, 10 years after his Sarajevo debut. And by the time the Games kicked off he was favourite to take home the large hill gold – if he could overcome local favourite Espen Bredesen.
Bredesen set a new Olympic record with his first jump. But the German veteran’s second attempt, a soaring leap of 133m, was so perfect the Norwegian’s cheering Bredesen were sent into raptures.
Weissflog duly took gold, and added to his tally two days later with another first place in the team event – the only competitor at the Games to repeat a Sarajevo medal win.