Ruud makes astonishing return to win ski jumping silver
St Moritz witnessed an astonishing performance from Birger Ruud. Ruud was already a legend of the sport, having won gold medals in the 1932 and 1936 Games, and since then he had retired from competition and turned to coaching.
He left behind the memories of a stunning career. He had also been world champion three times in the 1930s, had set two world record distances and had even taken a world championship bronze medal in Alpine skiing. What's more, his greatest rivals were, for much of this time, his brothers Sigmund and Asbjørn.
But he thought his competitive jumping days were behind him when the athletes arrived in St Moritz. Ruud, now 36 years old, was there as the assistant coach to the Norwegian team, which did include brother Asbjørn. He was also the team substitute and, the day before the jumping began, something inside him began to call. He had seen the difficult weather conditions, thought they would suit him and decided he would like to have one final crack at competing.
So, at 10pm the night before the competition, the Norwegian team withdrew Georg Thrane and replaced him with Birger Ruud. Rarely can an Olympic athlete have had so little time to prepare.
In the first round, the early lead was grabbed by the young Finn Matti Pietikäinen. Behind him, though, the Norwegians were massing – Petter Hugsted in second, Thorleif Schjelderup in fourth and between them, remarkably, Birger Ruud.
It was close, though. The second jump saw Hugsted produce something special as he became the only man to reach 70m, enough to win him the gold. But Birger Ruud was not to be denied his glory, taking the silver medal ahead of Schjelderup as Norway took all the places on the podium. Pietikäinen, the young hero of the first round, missed out on a medal by half a point.
Ruud would later describe this silver medal as his greatest achievement. In later life he and Hugsted, a lifelong friend, would set up a skiing museum in Kongsberg, the town where both men came from. Ruud died in 1998, at the age of 86.