Unknown Fortuna takes a big leap for Poland
When candidates for the Polish team for Sapporo were being considered, 19-year-old Wojciech Fortuna was not even on the shortlist. and he was only a last-minute addition as a result of injuries elsewhere. He was a virtual unknown, and was competing for a country that had never won a gold medal at the Winter Games.
Perhaps aided by his anonymity and the low expectations, Fortuna rose to the occasion to deliver something rather special.
In retrospect, the signs were there in his first event – the normal hill. Amidst the euphoria of Japan’s incredible clean sweep, it went almost unnoticed that the little heralded Polish teenager had finished sixth.
Five days later, he was back in action on the large hill, an event that took place in unpredictable and windy conditions. Lots of jumpers made the most of the gusts to deliver big jumps, but none did so to such devastating effect as the Polish newcomer.
When he took off, Fortuna soared an astonishing 111m, which was a new hill record. So impressive was his jump that it provoked a debate among the judges as to whether the wind had rendered the competition unfair, and should be postponed. After some deliberation, they decided to carry on. Fortuna's huge leap would stand.
Normal hill champion Yukio Kasaya was in second place after the first round of jumps, with a distance of 106m, but it was clear that if Fortuna could come anywhere near to matching his opening jump then the gold would be his.
Instead, the teenager only managed to clear 87.5m – more than 20m short of his opening jump. However, Kasaya also failed to produce a strong jump, clearing just 85m and dropping out of contention for any kind of medal.
With just a few jumpers left, Fortuna's total was still good enough to hold the lead. Switzerland's Walter Steiner then produced the longest jump of the round, clearing 103m, which pushed him up from 13th into second, just 0.1 point behind Fortuna. With the last jump of the contest, Rainer Schmidt of East Germany moved up from eighth to third, but nobody had the beating of Fortuna. In the most unlikely of circumstances, Poland had its first Winter Olympic gold medallist.