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Posted: Nov 19, 5:33p ET | Updated: Dec 28, 10:01a ET

A ski jumper's legacy rewritten

Finland's Janne Ahonen is a world champion and World Cup champion, but still chases an elusive individual Olympic medal.
Finland's Janne Ahonen is a world champion and World Cup champion, but still chases an elusive individual Olympic medal.

If you summarized the premise of the script, it would read like this: A young competitor ascends to the Olympic stage at age 16, ultimately becoming the next great ski jumper from Finland and joining the likes of four-time Olympic champion Matti Nykaenen and two-time Olympic champion Toni Nieminen in the pantheon of his nation's most revered.

On some level, Janne Ahonen has done exactly that - he is a two-time Olympic silver medalist, nine-time medalist at the world championships and two-time overall World Cup champion.

But by one traditional measure of excellence, Ahonen's stellar career has deviated notably from its forecast outcome. Despite having competed at every Olympic Winter Games dating back to Lillehammer in 1994, the 32-year-old has never won an Olympic gold medal, nor has he won a medal of any color in an individual event.

"You could sit here and have your whole binder filled with his stats," says American Anders Johnson, a 20-year-old who grew up idolizing Ahonen. "The guy has just done incredible things with the sport, but he has never won an individual Olympic medal. I think he has been fourth place more times than anyone else."

Though that particular statement is an exaggeration, Ahonen has been in the most unenviable position at the Olympics - fourth place - on two occasions: on the normal hill at the 1998 Nagano Games and again at the 2002 Salt Lake Games, where he (and everyone else) was upstaged by a whirlwind from Switzerland named Simon Ammann. At the 2006 Torino Games, Ahonen - then the two-time reigning World Cup champion and a threat to win three medals - finished a frustrating sixth on the normal hill and ninth on the large hill while taking silver in the team event.

And for a period of time, it appeared that his career would end with his individual Olympic quest unfulfilled - at the end of the 2007-08 season, Ahonen announced his retirement.

"When he retired it was sort of a big news thing," Johnson says, "because he broke down in tears. He's like ‘I can't do it anymore.'"

Fiercely competitive even off the slopes - he is a professional drag racer in Finland during the offseason - Ahonen may have had every intention of staying retired, but the itch to fly again eventually struck.

"He took a year break and the Finnish team was kind of on a couple of years where they weren't doing so well," Johnson says, "and [in 2008-09], they somehow magically just [recovered] and he was like ‘I want in,' so he's back."

Though Finnish jumpers did have a strong season individually in 2008-09 - three finished in the top-15 of the World Cup standings, led by Harri Olli in fourth place - a notable team result also may have played a significant motivating role. While retired, Ahonen had to watch his nation finish sixth in the team event at the 2009 World Championships, its worst result at a major championship since 1993.

Furthermore, there is the impossible to ignore fact that Austria's Gregor Schlierenzauer used Ahonen's absence in 2008-09 to become his sport's biggest star, winning the World Cup title and setting the single-season record with 13 World Cup wins - a record previously held by Ahonen.

Don't call it a revenge tour, but Ahonen's comeback has a quiet undertone of the old guard coming back to teach the next generation a lesson. And a not-so-quiet undertone of a once-dominant force chasing his last elusive accolade.

He's 32 now, more than a few months past his prime. And the script of his ski jumping life has largely been written - a tale of success with one notable outlier. In February, the man once seemingly destined for something legendary will seize his own Olympic story once more, this time in search of the perfect ending.

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