Sunday, February 14, 2010


WHISTLER, British Columbia -- Simon Ammann isn't likely to face any more questions about whether his previous Olympic success was a fluke.

Eight years after stunning the ski jump elite by sweeping both individual events at the Salt Lake City Games, Ammann has that gold-medal gleam again.

The 28-year-old Swiss dominated the normal hill event Saturday to win the first gold at the Vancouver Games and tie Finnish great Matti Nykanen's record of three individual Olympic titles.

It capped a remarkable transformation from phenom to fluke to simply fantastic.

"I'm back at the top of the world," Ammann said. "I have no words to describe the situation. It's crazy."

Ammann had the longest jumps in both rounds - soaring a massive 108 meters in his second effort - to beat Polish veteran Adam Malysz and World Cup rival Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria.

He knew right away he was the winner, pumping his arm in celebration before raising two clenched fists into the air. He then ran onto the podium at the flower ceremony, his index and middle fingers forming a V-sign as he shot his arm forward, like a ski jumper taking off in flight.

Ammann finished with 276.5 points, with Malysz second at 269.5. Schlierenzauer, the 20-year-old Austrian who entered the Olympics with a legitimate shot at sweeping all three events, had a mediocre first jump but flew 106.5 meters in the second to climb from seventh to third.

"I'm not a machine, I am also a human," Schlierenzauer said about his first jump.

The win was a final sense of redemption for Ammann, who initially struggled to cope with the success he had as a relatively unknown 20-year-old - and the "Harry Potter" nickname he earned for his resemblance to the fictional wizard.

He faced criticism after flopping at the 2006 Turin Games, before finally returning to the top by winning his first world championship title in 2007.

Now he's more likely to face questions about whether he can beat Nykanen's record by also winning the large hill event in Vancouver.

"Simon gets a chance for a fourth gold, and I think he can do it," said Malysz, who also finished second behind Ammann in the large hill and third in the normal hill in 2002. "Simon is very strong right now."

Saturday's win is likely to make him even stronger.

As he was sitting on the start gate and waiting to take off on his second jump - knowing he was jumping for another gold medal - Amman's thoughts strayed back to the last time he was in the same position, and all the ups and downs he's had in-between. While he's a lot more experience now, the 20-year-old Ammann was a lot better at not worrying about what would happen next.

"It was far easier for me eight years ago," Ammann said. "I was a newcomer, I was fresh. ... Today I have to carry quite a burden with all the memories of my long career."

That burden wasn't heavy enough to prevent a perfect flight through the air - and another gold-medal performance.

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