The Swiss ski jumper is the only person to have achieved two doubles at the Winter Games, eight years apart. He won his fourth title on 20 February 2010 in Vancouver, on Whistler’s big hill, leaving his rivals far behind, inscribing his name in golden letters in the Olympic history books.
To say that Simon Ammann had a few setbacks after his amazing double victory at Salt Lake City 2002 would be an understatement. In fact, he had to wait until after the Turin Games in 2006 to climb back to the top. He earned the nickname “Harry Potter” when, at the age of 20, he took the K90 event in Park City ahead of favourites Sven Hannavald of Germany and Adam Malysz of Poland, with two huge leaps on 9 February 2002. Four days later, on the K120 jump, facing down the same adversaries, he was the only person to clear 140 m twice. He became a national hero, and then appeared to lose his way.
After this achievement, four years would pass without any major wins. He came 38th on the small hill and 15th on the large at the 2006 Turin Games. Observers wondered if he had been extremely lucky in Utah, or extremely unlucky since then. The answer wasn’t long in coming. Simon Ammann found success again with a win in Lillehammer in December of the same year, and then won silver on the normal hill and a title on the big hill at the 2007 FIS World Championships in Sapporo. He continued to go from strength to strength over the course of the 2008-2009 winter season, finishing 2nd in the World Cup rankings. With five wins, he was on track to win the only big crystal globe of his career, when the Vancouver 2010 Games came around.
Two competitions, and no one flew further than Simon Ammann
On 13 February he was the final competitor to compete (bib no. 51) in the first jump on the HS106 hill, at the Whistler Olympic Park. He stunned the field, flying to a distance of 105 metres, and soaring into the lead with 135.5 points. On the second round he watched as, one by one, his rivals improved on their performances. He launched himself down the ramp, and beat the ski jump record, with a distance of 108 metres. As he skied to the finish he pumped the air with his fist, certain that the gold was his. He was right: he finished the competition with a comfortable seven-point lead, and claimed his 3rd Olympic title, eight years later. Adam Malysz took silver once again, and Gregor Schilerenzauer of Austria came third.
A week later, on Saturday 20 February, the anniversary we’re celebrating today, Simon Ammann donned his skis once more to take on the HS140 big hill. Once again he caused a sensation, landing an enormous 144 metre jump, setting a new Olympic record and storming to first place, leaving his rivals far behind. His second jump, at 138 metres, was far enough to guarantee a place on the top step of the podium. Incredibly for an athlete whose performance had been erratic over the years, in each leg of both finals, he recorded the longest jump of the competition. The podium positions were the same as for the small hill, but Malysz was left trailing further (14 points) behind, with Schlierenzauer even further back with 21.
The boy from Grabs in St Gallen, Switzerland, was the first ski jumper in history to achieve a double-double. He also became the most decorated Swiss winter athlete of all time, although his feat has since been equalled by cross-country skier Dario Cologna. He is also the only person to have won four individual ski jumping gold medals (although Matty Nykänen of Finland has four, one is for a team event).
First Olympic experience at the age of 16, in Nagano 1998
“I was around 10 years old when I started jumping, after seeing a notice on my school notice board saying that anyone could try ski jumping by joining the local club, and taking part in small competitions using Alpine skis,” he explained. “I won that competition. In the beginning I was afraid of the speed, because after moving on from the little kid jumps, at 40 or 50 km/h, you reach speeds of over 100 km/h wearing just your helmet, ski suit and skis. It can be quite scary.”
He competed in his first World Cup competition in December 1997, and was selected for his first Olympic Games in Nagano 1998. “I was so lucky to be there in Japan at the age of 16. I was the youngest athlete. Because of that I was kind of a spectator of the event, but I think that helped me to be the strongest, four years later. The mental impact was huge, and I loved my time in Nagano.”
When he arrived in Salt Lake City 2002 four years later, he had not yet won a single event on the international circuit. “I was having a good season, but I was a complete outsider. We knew the Park City jump, we’d been there the last two summers, but ahead of my jumps I was very nervous. On the normal hill I waited to see my score, then my teammates rushed up to me, shouting and screaming, and picked me up. It was an incredible day. After that I expected to be good on the big hill, because it was easier for me to fly. When I saw the number 1 on the giant screen, it was one of the greatest days of my life.”
And we know the rest. The glasses and boyish features reminiscent of J.K. Rowling’s young wizard, the disappointing intervening years, the spectacular comeback in Vancouver 2010, followed in March the same year by a world title in ski flying on the HS215 jump in Planica (Slovenia), and a season that culminated with a top score in the World Cup rankings.
But that wasn’t the end of Simon Ammann’s career. He took part in the Sochi 2014 Games, where he was the flag bearer for the Swiss team.
He also went to PyeongChang in 2018, and at the age of 38 is currently disputing his 23rd World Cup season.
He has racked up 80 podium places including 23 wins. Pleasure is still his greatest driver, and he remains completely motivated, still chasing that perfect jump.