Posted: Feb 13, 2:00p ET | Updated: Mar 5, 10:32a ET

Ammann wins first gold medal of Games

Swiss ski jumper flies to hill record 108m; rival Schlierenzauer takes bronze

WHISTLER (AP) -- Staring down at the ski jumping ramp and his shot at another Olympic gold medal, Simon Ammann flashed back eight long years to when he was last in the same position -- and tried to block it all out.

Swiss ski-jump superstar Simon Ammann wins gold on the normal hill. Here are both of his jumps, including his record-setting leap in the final.

He cleared his thoughts just long enough to make sure the result was the same as in 2002.

Ammann put down a majestic second jump of 108 meters Saturday to protect his lead from the first round and claim the first gold medal of the Vancouver Olympics. He also became just the second ski jumper to earn three individual Olympic golds and made up for many of his disappointments since sweeping both the normal and large hill events at the Salt Lake City Games.

"It's unbelievable that eight years later I'm back here," the 28-year-old Ammann said. "I'm back at the top of the world."

In familiar surroundings too.

Ammann again bested Polish veteran Adam Malysz, who also won silver in the large hill in 2002, while his closest World Cup rival Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria took bronze.

It capped a remarkable return to form after Ammann initially struggled to cope with the success he had as a 20-year-old -- and the "flying Harry Potter" nickname he earned for his resemblance to the fictional wizard. He flopped at the 2006 Turin Games, then bounced back to win his first world championship title in 2007.

Perhaps it was no wonder that all those ups and downs surged back into his head as he sat on the bench getting ready for his second jump.

"It was far easier for me eight years ago," said Ammann, who matched Finnish great Matti Nykanen's record of three individual golds. "I was a newcomer, I was fresh. ... Today I have to carry quite a burden with all the memories of my long career."

And while Ammann has done his best to shed the Harry Potter image -- the round black-rimmed glasses are gone, and the previously unkempt hair is combed back -- he proved there is still plenty of magic in his jumps.

After Schlierenzauer's mediocre first-round score took away hopes of a jumping duel between the sport's two biggest stars, Ammann turned the event into a one-man show.

He raced down the ramp for the second jump at 87.3 kilometers per hour (54.25 mph) before soaring into the air, skis in a V-shape like backward airplane wings, shoulders squared to let his 5-foot-8 body ride the wind to perfection. His landing wasn't perfect -- it rarely is when you fly two meters past the hill-size point, where the slope flattens out -- but it hardly mattered.

"With a lot of confidence and energy and strength, I was ready," he said.

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.

Malysz, meanwhile, again fell short of earning his first Olympic gold. The 32-year-old Pole is a four-time individual world champion, a four-time overall World Cup winner and also took bronze on the normal hill in 2002. Having ruled out competing in 2014, he's now left with just one last shot, the large hill event, to complete his resume.

"I have a good chance to medal again, hopefully a gold," Malysz said. "Simon is very strong right now, but I will try for sure. I jumped better every time. Certainly my goal and my preparations are for a gold medal."

Finnish veteran Janne Ahonen also had another near-miss, finishing fourth to again miss out on his first individual Olympic medal. Like Malysz, the 36-year-old Ahonen is considered one of the sport's all-time greats, and he came out of retirement this season for a last shot at Olympic success.

His misery continued, however, as he finished five points behind Schlierenzauer despite jumps of 102 and 104 meters. He also finished fourth in the normal hill at the 1998 Nagano Games and in Salt Lake City.

"Knowing Janne, he wants to achieve more," Malysz said.

So does Schlierenzauer, the Austrian defending overall World Cup champion who had the longest jump in the qualifying round and entered his first Olympics with a legitimate shot at sweeping all three events.

He seemingly mistimed his takeoff on the first jump to settle for 101.5 meters, but climbed from seventh to third with a 106.5-meter effort in the second.

"I'm not a machine, I am also a human," Schlierenzauer said about his first jump. "I am very proud that I won the bronze medal. It's a very good feeling to be at my first Olympic Games, and I won a medal."

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