Posted: Feb 19, 2:13p ET | Updated: Feb 19, 4:56p ET

Defiant Ammann hits form on large hill

Japan's Kasai leads all jumpers not previously qualified

WHISTLER (AFP) -- Swiss triple Olympic champion ski jumper Simon Ammann on Friday prepared for a record fourth crown after shrugging off a row over his boot bindings, which officials decided were within the rules.

Ammann, going for a second normal-hill, large-hill double after the Salt Lake Games in 2002, out-jumped main Austrian rival Gregor Schlierenzauer in the individual qualification round at Whistler Olympic Park ahead of Saturday's medal event.

"Everything is in order," insisted the 28-year-old after the International Ski Federation ruled his new, improved bindings were legal, frustrating Austrian attempts to have him switch back to conventional bindings.

"I never doubted my material was in line with the regulations and I just concentrated on what I had to do," added Ammann.

"I am Olympic champion because I am the best jumper not because I have this equipment.

"Everybody's body is a little bit different so we try to adjust from time to time. We discussed it and we knew it [the binding] was within the regulations. The system has been used within the last two years and other guys have used it from Austria as well," he said.

The Austrians had insisted that Ammann's binding would boost his jump distance and that it was not FIS-approved.

The Swiss are using a curved iron binding instead of an elastic one, helping jumpers to stand closer to parallel with their skis in the air, thereby boosting their aerodynamics.

Sepp Gratzer, who oversees jump equipment for the FIS, said he had personally checked out the binding.

"I saw the binding. For me it is according to the rules and I find no passage in the rules that could be against it," he told the website of the world governing body.

The Swiss camp said on Thursday their neighbours' protest was simply motivated by jealousy.

Austrian coach Alexander Pointner insisted that "we made it clear that it is about fundamental, not personal matters. We still talk to each other."

"We tried to simply shed light on the issue and now it is a transparent system," Pointner said.

Ammann showed he was unaffected by the controversy by jumping 140m from gate 14, compared with 137.5 for Schlierenzauer, his chief rival, who took bronze on the normal hill behind Pole Adam Malysz.

The top stars were in any case pre-qualified for the final.

Japan's Noriaki Kasai landed 142.5m, as did Norway's Anders Jacobsen, but they both set off from a higher gate than Ammann.

Swiss head coach Martin Kuenzle slammed the Austrians, traditionally the dominant winter sports power, for sparking the bindings row.

"The Austrians have been banging on about this for weeks but in doing so they are only hurting their own athletes. The binding is just an optimisation and hence within the rules," he said.

If Ammann does win the large hill he will become the first man to claim four jump golds in Winter Games history.

Canadian competitor Stefan Read backed Ammann's bindings, saying the Swiss are simply pushing the boundaries of the sport.

"I don't think it's illegal or anything. I just think it's innovation in the sport," said Read.

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