WHISTLER // Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann must wish all Olympic Games were held in North America. Strapping on the disputed bindings that Austria unsuccessfully tried to have banned, Ammann flew past his main rivals for his second gold medal of these games, putting down the best jump in both rounds in the large hill event. Ammann bounced back from a disappointing Turin Games to repeat the short and large hill sweep he posted in Salt Lake City in 2002 at the age of 20 and surpasses the Finnish great Matti Nykanen's record of three individual golds.
"Maybe it is just because of the magic here in North America," Ammann said. "The other places haven't been that powerful to me." He staved off four Austrians who were not happy about his equipment after he won the short hill event, including 20-year-old Gregor Schlierenzauer, who took the bronze behind the Polish veteran Adam Malysz. It was the same 1-2-3 finish from last week. The Austrians argue that it is not American magic but Ammann's bindings that are giving him an unfair advantage. The International Ski Federation dismissed the Austrian complaints that the Swiss' bindings violated regulations. Ammann tested the bindings last summer and used them for the last World Cup event before the Winter Games.
Normal bindings use an elastic strap at the back to keep the boot in place. In Ammann's version, the boot is attached to a curved iron stick that bends forward as the jumper leans his body almost parallel to his skis. "Now we have to improve our material," Schlierenzauer said. "But all I can say is Simon is in quite good shape. I can't say anything about his binding, how many metres the binding is bringing. For me, I think I have to fight for my chance and after the season. I have to improve my material."
Malysz suggested the Austrians were either jealous or playing psychological games with the World Cup leader. He said he had no problem with Ammann's equipment, and that the Swiss beat him fairly. Malysz, the first Pole to win four medals at the Winter Games, would not say whether he will switch bindings. He said it was silly to focus on equipment at the Olympics rather than the jump hill, and he suggested that is why he was able to win his second straight silver medal.
"Two silver medals for me is nearly as good as a gold medal," Malysz said. "My jumping is sensational, absolutely fantastic. But I just know that Simon is so much better." Ammann held a commanding lead after the first round with a jaw-dropping 144-metre effort - six metres further than Malysz. Focused on a good landing on his second jump, he soared 138 metres and nailed his landing for a total score of 283.6 points. Malysz had 269.4 points and Schlierenzauer 262.2.
The Austrians can bounce back in the team jump tomorrow where they are heavy favourites. * AP