Swiss ski jumping legend Simon Ammann: Why I have not landed yet 

He's achieved everything ski jumping has to offer, so why is the four-time Olympic champion touching down at Beijing 2022 for more? 

By Chloe Merrell
Picture by getty images

When the bespectacled 20-year-old Simon Ammann stood atop the podium to receive his second Olympic ski jumping gold medal in three days at Salt Lake City 2002, the watching world stood in awe.

The Swiss, bearing an uncanny resemblance to J.K. Rowling’s titular protagonist Harry Potter, had come from seemingly nowhere.

While unlikely Olympic winners are far from unique, no one saw this silver-suit clad ski jumper coming. And what followed was 'Ammann-mania'.

Though he would go on to outgrow the Potter comparison, not even today, at 40 years old, would Ammann deny the magical quality that encircled him at those Games.

Having banked the first Olympic ski jumping double since 1988, the newly crowned champion - who even made it onto Late Night with David Letterman for his exploits in Utah - drifted off into the sporting wilderness.

There were ups, like winning gold and silver at the World Ski Championships in 2007, but mainly downs including failing to make the top 10 at Turin 2006.

Then, of course, came Vancouver 2010.

The 2009/10 season saw a resurgence in form which he then emphatically underlined by regaining his individual normal hill and large hill Olympic titles to become the first ski jumper in history to win four individual golds.

It was, for the ski jumper and his country, a moment of complete euphoria.

Simon Ammann: the ever-quest to capture the perfect jump

Fast forward to today and the man from St Gallen, Switzerland still humbly powers on.

Just this month Ammann received the nod to compete at his seventh Olympic Games at Beijing 2022 – a record for any Swiss.

No season since has come close to that Canadian Olympic year which he topped by winning ski jumping's World Cup overall title.

Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 came and went, but an ageing Ammann was found wanting of the lightning he had so deftly bottled in Games’ prior.

What is it then, that keeps the Winter Olympic legend coming back for more?

It’s a question that has dogged the ski jumper, now in his 24th World Cup season, for nearly a decade.

When Ammann calls a press conference, the expectation is that of the final farewell. But still, no.

Listening to him speak of his craft, it’s easy to see why the man who has clinched all of ski jumping’s top honours still finds himself today standing at the top of the in-run.

Like a dedicated student, he continues his hunt for the perfect formula that will hand him complete mastery over his discipline. And if it requires additional seasons of tinkering, altering and adapting, he – to everyone’s continued surprise - is all too ready to press on.

Simon Ammann celebrates on the podium at Salt Lake City 2002

“Each jump is a puzzle to be cracked,” explained the Olympic veteran to Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag.

“There are so many variables that you have to consider: orientation, wind, take-off, angle, nature of the hill, trajectory, ski position, material. In a few seconds and at a speed of 90km/h, you make dozens of decisions.

"Every change leads to more changes, and suddenly everything collapses like a house of cards. You can train as much as you like: 'Zack!' – and everything is gone!"

He continued, "As a little boy, I was good at waiting for my chance and then grabbing it. Like ski jumping, when you’re at the top, the traffic light changes to green and it’s only up to me. These are the situations I love."

It’s not just intricacies and details either that keep Ammann committed. There is, of course, the insatiable appetite for being airborne.

Having always had vivid dreams of flying as a child, his desire to soar is deeply rooted.

“We ski jumpers actually fly,” says the man hunting his fifth Olympic gold. “We slide on the air cushion under the skis. This feeling is indescribable and comes sometimes more, sometimes less. But it is precisely for these moments that we live and train. Flying has always fascinated me.”

"Retiring is difficult because you learn a lot intuitively as a child and build on it as adult. Jumping has grown into me in such a way that it determines my whole life such that I can’t just cut it off like an umbilical cord."

Simi Ammann: ski jumping’s own Roger Federer

Given Ammann’s longevity, his stunning sporting achievements, and his national identity it’s not too long before he is compared to compatriot Roger Federer.

It is not a parallel the Swiss shies away from. He senses an affinity between the two. When pressed on why he has not bowed out after some great finale, not unlike the ones he has known, Ammann points to the tennis legend:

“I see it like Roger Federer,” said Ammann continued to Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag. “He wants to be healthy when he ends his career. I jump as long as I can enjoy it.

“Part of the fascination of this sport is not just to shine. I don’t retire when it’s nice, but when I’ve tried everything and lost my whole self."

Then, of course, there’s the simple fact that Ammann is still enjoying jumping:

"It’s still too much fun, even if there are no successes,” admitted the father-of-three. “It’s the search for that one moment where it all comes together. Those who have experienced these emotions want to experience them again.”

Some 24 years on from his debut as a 16-year-old rookie at Nagano 1998, try Ammann will, to bring it all together one more time in Beijing.

MORE: How to watch ski jumping at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022

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