PARK CITY, UTAH–Poland’s Adam Malysz carried with him into Sunday’s 90-meter ski jumping competition: the status of favorite, a large Polish cheering contingent and the best wishes of Lech Walesa.
Germany’s Sven Hannawald electrified the crowd of 18,999 at the Utah Olympic Park with a pressure-packed jump of 99 meters that, at the time, made him look like a sure gold medalist.
But, in the end, the quiet consistency of Switzerland’s Simon Ammann captured the affection of the sun-washed fans and, later, the world’s media as the 20-year-old “sometimes student” took an unexpected gold medal and became an instant hero in his own country.
Ammann totaled 269.0 points in two jumps to beat Hannawald (267.5) and Malysz (263.0) and became the first Swiss ski jumper to ever win gold.
“I am still trembling,” Ammann told a press gathering through a translator nearly two hours after his victory.
He held up his hand to show the gathered masses, and added, “It was worse earlier.”
Ammann’s victory was not a miracle, but it was unexpected. He recently battled head and neck injuries caused by a fall that kept him out of competition for about a month and he sits ninth in the 2001-02 World Cup rankings.
Still, he was plenty loose.
When asked if the injury was serious, Ammann replied that it wasn’t, he had just landed on his head. When asked if he had changed much since the 1998 Olympics, the 5-foot-8 native of Grabs, Switzerland said he had grown several inches. When asked to expound on his “troubles with school,” he replied only that he figures he can be a better ski jumper once he’s finished with school.
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The room was rolling. So when Ammann said his goal was finishing in the top 10, the media laughed. Ammann didn’t. He was serious.
But after he posted the second-best jump in the qualifying round, Ammann said he started to believe he could contend for a medal. He finished the first round with a marvelously smooth leap of 98.0 meters and tacked on a first round-best judges total of 57.5 points (out of a possible 60) to give him a score of 133.5 – a full two and a half points better than second-place Hannawald. Malysz, meanwhile, caught one ski in a rut upon landing and was given a debilitating 52.5 judges’ score on a jump of 98.5 meters.
That meant Ammann was in the driver’s seat. But just to make things interesting, Hannawald stuck the jump of the day on the second-to-last leap of the competition. He flew 99 meters and added a judges’ score of 58.5 to get a total score of 136.5. It was three points better than any other jump of the day and put the pressure squarely on the young Swiss.
“I knew there were no points to play with,” Ammann said when asked about his first-round cushion. “I knew I had to jump for the win.”
He did just that, going 98.5 meters and matching Hannawald’s 58.5 judges’ score for a total score of 135.5 on his second jump.
The 120-meter competition will open on Monday, and Ammann said he is eager to compete for another gold medal, but he smiled brightly when asked what his plans for Sunday were.
“Today is a special day,” he said. “It is to be enjoyed.”
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