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Swiss ski jumper Ammann takes Games' first gold

WHISTLER, British Columbia - Staring down at the ski jumping ramp and his shot at another Olympic gold medal, Simon Ammann flashed back eight long years to when he was last in the same position - and tried to block it all out.

He cleared his thoughts just long enough to make sure the result was the same as in 2002.

Ammann put down a majestic second jump of 108 meters Saturday to protect his lead from the first round and claim the first gold medal of the Vancouver Olympics. The 28-year-old Swiss also became just the second ski jumper to earn three individual Olympic golds and made up for many of his disappointments since sweeping both the normal and large hill events at the Salt Lake City Games.

"It's unbelievable that eight years later, I'm back here," Ammann said. "I'm back at the top of the world." In familiar surroundings, too.

Ammann again bested Polish veteran Adam Malysz, who also won silver in the large hill in 2002, while his closest World Cup rival Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria took bronze.

It capped a remarkable return to form after Ammann initially struggled to cope with the success he had as a 20-year-old - and the "flying Harry Potter" nickname he earned for his resemblance to the fictional wizard. He flopped at the 2006 Turin Games, then bounced back to win his first world championship in 2007.

Perhaps it was no wonder that all those ups and downs surged back into his head as he sat on the bench getting ready for his second jump.

"It was far easier for me eight years ago," said Ammann, who matched Finnish great Matti Nykanen's record of three individual golds. "I was a newcomer, I was fresh . . . Today, I have to carry quite a burden with all the memories of my long career."

And though Ammann has done his best to shed the Harry Potter image - the round black-rimmed glasses are gone, and the previously unkempt hair is combed back - he proved there is still plenty of magic in his jumps.

After Schlierenzauer's mediocre first-round score took away hopes of a jumping duel between the sport's two biggest stars, Ammann turned the event into a one-man show.

He raced down the ramp for the second jump at 87.3 kilometers per hour (54.25 mph) before soaring into the air, skis in a V-shape like backward airplane wings, shoulders squared to let his 5-8 body ride the wind to perfection. His landing wasn't perfect - it rarely is when you fly 2 meters past the hill-size point, where the slope flattens out - but it hardly mattered.

"With a lot of confidence and energy and strength, I was ready," he said.

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