Ski jumping

Austria leaps to the fore

Schlierenzauer amazes his mates

By Arnie Stapleton
Associated Press / February 23, 2010

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WHISTLER, British Columbia - The Austrian men were so far ahead of the field in the team ski jump yesterday that the only drama was how far 20-year-old Gregor Schlierenzauer would fly off the large hill.

His teammates, practically celebrating their gold medal as they awaited the final jump of the Vancouver Olympics, took bets. Fans and competitors did, too.

Surely, he’ll go for it. But how far can he go? “I said about 144 meters long,’’ said Austria’s Wolfgang Loitzl.

Schlierenzauer, already a double bronze winner here, sat on the gate on a sun-splashed day, took a few breaths, and pushed off down the ramp, thrusting himself into the air with the biggest jump of his life.

The crowd at Olympic Whistler Park gasped as he touched down 146.5 meters later, then squatted and put out his left hand to steady himself, but never touching the snow.

“It is a perfect feeling to be on such a strong team,’’ Schlierenzauer said. “To be an Olympic champion is amazing.’’

And Schlierenzauer’s amazing jump put the finishing touches on the Austrians’ second straight Olympic gold medal.

Austria defended its title from the Turin Games with 1,107.9 points. Germany (1,035.8 points) won a distant silver and Norway (1,030.3) took bronze.

Simon Ammann, the Swiss ace who won the gold in both the normal and large hill individual competitions, sat out because Switzerland didn’t have four jumpers to field a team.

With the World Cup leader out, Austria’s four jumpers - Schlierenzauer, Thomas Morgenstern, Andreas Kofler, and Loitzl - were the four highest-ranked athletes in the field.

“We do not have so much pressure,’’ said Loitzl, who started things off with a nice 138-meter jump. “We know we have the strongest team, so we knew what to do.’’

Kofler and Morgenstern also were on the team that won gold in Turin, and Loitzl was on the 2002 team that took fourth.

“For me it is extreme fun to jump in the team,’’ Schlierenzauer said. “Our cohesion within the team is fantastic. In individual competition, you have to give your best, but in the team even more.’’

Finland finished fourth with 1,014.6 points. This is the first time since 1994 in Lillehammer that Finland didn’t win a medal in ski jumping. Their top jumper, Janne Ahonen, withdrew from the team event Saturday because of a knee injury.

The American ski jumping team of Nick Alexander (Lebanon, N.H.), Anders Johnson, Peter Frenette, and Taylor Fletcher placed 11th in the 12-team field, failing to advance to the eight-team final round.