Ski jumpers Kankkonen and Engan battle for supremacy on the hills
For the first time in the history of the Olympics, there were two ski jumping events on the programme at Innsbruck 1964, with the normal hill (K70) competition being joined by a large hill (K90) event. There were also two leading contenders for gold in Norway’s Toralf Engan and Finland’s Veikko Kankkonen.
Kankkonen was a different jumper to the one that finished 40th at Squaw Valley 1960, while Engan, four years his senior at 24, recovered from his failure to make the trip to California by winning the 1961 Norwegian Championship and then becoming normal hill world champion in Zakopane (POL) in 1962, a year in which he won all but four of the 26 competitions he entered. He then won the prestigious Four Hills title in 1963, with Kankkonen promptly taking it from him the following January 1964, just before the pair battled it out for Olympic glory in Innsbruck.
The first event on the schedule in Austria was the normal hill at Seefeld, where a crowd of thousands gathered to watch a competition that began with Norway’s Hans Olav Sørensen sailing out to 76m. That jump remained the longest until Engan, starting 43rd, bettered it by three metres. Going out 54th and last, Kankkonen could only manage 77m and had to be content with 29th place at the end of the first round.
The Finnish flyer was to fare better on his second attempt, landing the longest jump of the competition at 80m and scoring high enough style marks to move up to fourth, with Engan holding on to his lead with a leap of 78.5m.
A suspenseful third and final round saw the Finn jump 79m and outpoint everyone on style to snatch the gold from his Norwegian rival, who flew out to the same distance but was penalised for a less polished landing and finished 3.6 points adrift of Kankkonen, with Torgeir Brandtzæg of Norway joining them on the podium in third.
Nine days after that thrilling duel, the two Scandinavian greats faced off again in the large hill competition at the Bergisel, where another large crowd gathered to witness the first ever Olympic K90 competition. Respectively wearing the No42 and 47 bibs, the Norwegian and the Finn waged another memorable duel that was captured for posterity in the full-page photo montage that graced the Official Report. Bearing the legend “The two outstanding jumpers of the Games”, it showed the duo side by side in the same dramatic mid-air pose, both leaning out towards the tips of their skis, with their arms down by their sides.
Their tussle began with Kankkonen landing a competition-best jump of 95.5m, enough to give him a 4.2-point lead over Engan, who jumped two metres fewer. The in-run was shortened for the second round, in which Engan hit back to take the lead with a perfectly executed jump of 90.5m, a distance that Kankkonen was able to match, albeit with a less impressive landing.
Holding a 1.8-point lead going into the third round, which saw the in-run shortened further, Engan looked to have let his gold-medal hopes slip with a jump of only 73m. With a second Olympic title in his grasp, Kankkonen soared out to 88m but lost his balance on landing and laid a hand on the snow, causing him to lose all his style marks and allowing Engan to take gold from him by 230.7 points to 228.9, with Norway’s Brandtzæg claiming another bronze just behind them.
That memorable duel was the last between the pair. Engan brought his career to an end in 1966 and went on to become head coach of Norway’s ski jumping team, while Kankkonen made an unsuccessful return to Olympic competition at Grenoble 1968 before also becoming a national team coach.