Above Them All
Switzerland's Simon Ammann is ski jumping's new king
The object of ski jumping is to defy gravity for as long as possible. To do this, a jumper combines the speed of a downhill racer with a long jumper's lift as he violently launches his body forward into space. And he must make the jump appear as effortless as falling asleep.
Inches and angles can mean the difference between the proverbial thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and in the span of a month Simon Ammann has experienced both. In January the 20-year-old Harry Potter look-alike from Switzerland was -- with apologies to Martina Hingis -- the Swiss Miss: He was winless in 33 individual World Cup events since 1997 and out of commission for 12 days after a terrifying fall on a practice jump. Today Ammann is one of the breakout stars of these Games, having won gold on the normal and large hills. With today's team event he has a shot to become the first ski jumper to win three golds in one Olympics since Matti Nykanen of Finland in 1988.
Ammann grew up in Unterwasser, a hamlet of 1,000 in northeastern Switzerland. Living in a village with little to do and in a household without television, he took up ski jumping at age eight and quickly excelled. At 5'8" and 121 pounds, Ammann is built like an arrow. "He is made for ski jumping," says Gary Furrer, the head of the Swiss squad, "and ski jumping is made for him."
Of course, Ammann and ski jumping made for a troubled marriage last month. On a training jump before a World Cup event in Willingen, Germany, Ammann leaned too far forward on his takeoff and began tumbling in the air. He flew less than 40 meters and landed on his head and left shoulder. He suffered only a concussion, but Furrer was concerned that the crash might have done more psychological damage than physical. "What we didn't know was how he was going to ski jump after his crash," Furrer says.
What Ammann has done since is win the K90 and K120 events in Salt Lake. A victory today would leave only Nykanen, the Flying Finn -- who won four -- with more ski jumping gold medals. "I think the accident was the best thing to happen to me," Ammann says now. "I had no rest until I fell. After the crash I could get my energy back and fix my mind."
Just in time for his leap into stardom.
Food for Thought
When Tom Poti, at 25 the youngest defenseman on the U.S. hockey team, strolls into the cafeteria in the Olympic Village, the chef greets him by asking, "What can't I make for you, Mr. Poti?"
Since the day he was weaned off formula, the 6'3", 215-pound Poti has battled a bewildering array of food allergies. He can't eat chocolate, nuts or fish, and he reacts violently to a range of additives, including the insidious monosodium glutamate. One bite of an offending food and Poti's throat closes, and he swells up and breaks out in hives.
Poti has had many scares over the years, most memorably during his senior year of high school, at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass., when he ate some rice with almond flavoring and, he says, "I suddenly couldn't breathe." Poti was saved when a school nurse slammed a needle full of adrenaline into his thigh.
A gamboling offensive threat and a precise passer, Poti carries a shot of adrenaline with him wherever he goes while playing for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers and has brought his syringe to Salt Lake, though he doesn't think he'll need it. When Poti arrived, on Feb. 13, U.S. assistant coach Lou Vairo brought him into the dining-hall kitchen to meet the team of eight chefs. "They've been awesome, totally accommodating," says Poti. "I think they like the challenge."
Poti has thus far stuck to the basics: plain steaks, plain baked potatoes, pasta without sauce. It's not exactly haute cuisine, but remember that Poti's a bachelor. "I eat better here than I do at home," he says.
Citius, Altius, Suckius
We hereby nominate U.S. skier Daron Rahlves for the Baron Pierre de Coubertin Olympic Spirit award. After finishing eighth in the men's Super G on Saturday, Rahlves, who had entered the Games as the reigning world champion in the event, had this to say: "Why I wanted to race was for medals, hopefully for gold. It sucks to be walking away without one."
The Name Game
The names involved in the scandal over figure skating judging have been on everybody's tongue; it's when they cross the lips that there's been a problem. The name of disgraced French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne has been mangled by as fine a news anchor as MSNBC's Lester Holt, who scrambled on air to correct himself. (The closest we Anglophones can probably come is "Marie-Ren Le-Goon." Isn't there always a goon on the ice?) The Russian pair of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze have been shortened to Elena and Anton by all but the bravest journalists, as if the skaters were the neighbor's kids. Even Jamie Salé and David Pelletier have baffled notables ranging from CNN correspondent Carol Lin, who referred to them as "Sail" and "Pel-le-teer" instead of "Sal-lay" and "Pel-let-tee-ay," to IOC president Jacques Rogge, who at the press conference announcing that the pair would receive gold medals called her "Sail" as well.
Let's hope the Finns don't win the hockey tournament.