Monday, February 18, 2002
Germany's jumping edge smallest in Olympic history
PARK CITY, Utah -- Martin Schmitt jumped as far as he could, and while waiting to see if it was far enough, one thought raced through the German's mind.
"Please, please, please, please," he said. "Let me win."
He won -- by about the length of the gold-medal ribbon that will be draped around his neck.
Schmitt soared 405 feet (123.5 meters) on his final, nerve-racking jump to give Germany a gold medal by one-tenth of a point over Finland Monday in team ski jumping.
The Germans, who won the silver medal four years ago in Nagano, finished with 974.1 points, edging Finland (974.0) in the closest team jumping competition in Olympic history.
"We barely made it," Schmitt said. "I can't imagine how the Finns feel."
If Schmitt's final jump had been roughly 18 inches shorter, or if his style points had been a half-point any lower, Finland would have won the gold.
"We're happy with silver," said Finland's Janne Ahonen. "But how it happened is not so nice."
Slovenia, appearing in its third Olympics as an independent nation, had 946.3 points and won the bronze for its first medal of the Salt Lake City Games.
Austria was fourth at 926.8 and Japan, the defending Olympic champion, was fifth at 926.0.
The young American team, hoping to use its experience in Salt Lake City as a springboard toward a medal in 2006, finished 11th. The U.S. hasn't won a ski jumping medal since 1924.
"Overall, the guys ripped their jumps," said Alan Alborn of Anchorage, Alaska. "This was a big competition, and not one of us wanted to let the other down. There was a lot of pressure."
Schmitt, the second-to-last jumper in the field, said he was feeling the pressure after Ahonen had given Finland the lead by jumping 412 feet (125.5 meters) just ahead of him.
Schmitt decided to break out new skis for the team event, a decision he said was "risky." And as he prepared to roar down the in-run, Schmitt knew he had to take another chance.
"I wanted to jump over 130 (meters)," he said. "I was quick at takeoff but there was a little dust and I didn't get to go as far as I wanted to."
After landing and sliding to a stop, Schmitt froze.
He squatted down on his skis and braced himself to see the distance. Schmitt first covered his eyes and then put his gloves near his mouth, cowering at the thought of possibly letting his teammates and country down.
Time stood still. Nearly 30 seconds passed.
But then the scoreboard showed his marks: 55 style points and a 121.3 total.
Germany had an Olympic team gold to go with the one it won in 1994.
Schmitt's teammates, Sven Hannawald, Stephan Hocke and Michael Uhrmann, then mobbed him and the foursome rolled around in the snow in celebration.
Hannawald, who later said he was nursing a shin injury, ran over to the stands and grabbed some small German flags as a contingent of fans broke into chants of "Ger-man-y."
Schmitt and Hannawald were members of the German team which was beaten by the Japanese at Nagano in 1998 by 36.4 points -- a huge margin compared to this win.
Hannawald had come to the Games favored to win individual golds on the 90- and 120-meter hills. Instead, he won silver at 90, finished fourth on the large hill and needed his teammates to help him get a gold.
Finland's Risto Jussilainen said he could barely watch during the torturous moments before Schmitt's marks were announced.
"It's terrible," he said. "It was very near. The scoreboard was empty. So close. It's terrible."
Ten years ago at Albertville, Finland beat Austria by 1.5 points in the previous closest Olympic team competition.
Because judges are used during ski jumping competition, the testy issue of subjectivity comes into play when style points are awarded. Marks are given for the quality of a skiers' flight and landing.
Ahonen was asked if the Finns might follow the Canadian figure skaters and appeal their second-place finish.
"Of course not," he said. "Germany was a little better than Finland today. That's all."
Swiss jumping sensation Simon Ammann came up short in his bid to become the second jumper in history to win three golds. Ammann, who won the 90- and 120-meter events, thrilled a crowd of 20,000 by soaring 427 feet (130 meters) on his final jump but he and his teammates finished seventh.
"I felt no pressure," said Ammann, who mugged for cameras and played to the crowd after his leaps. "I was in a good mood. It was just incredible."