Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann tells swissinfo about his ambitious goals for the season and reflects on the best moments of his career – so far.
Back in the spotlight after several years in the sporting wilderness, the two-time Olympic champion is feeling better than ever at the start of his 12th season, which begins this weekend in Finland.
In 2002 Ammann caused a sensation when he returned from the Salt Lake City Olympics with two gold medals.
Dubbed Harry Potter because of his resemblance to the boy wizard, the 27-year-old became an overnight star: the story of a farmer's son raised with no television or radio went down particularly well in the United States.
But after the Salt Lake Games "Simi" landed with a bump and spent four years without direction or success.
Today Ammann has rediscovered his love of winning and last year won a world championship title. He is now dreaming of further successes and confirming his place in ski-jump history.
swissinfo: How do you feel just a few days before the start of the World Cup season?
Simon Ammann: Summer was simply incredible. I feel like I'm in the best shape that I've ever been in. I've rarely felt like I've made so much technical and physical progress. Training for a long time in these areas is now bearing fruit – for example the second-place finish at the summer Grand Prix.
swissinfo: What do you mean by technical and physical progress?
S.A.: Technically, I've greatly improved my approach position. My body is more forward over the skis, which allows me to generate more speed down the ramp. While this was my weak point for a long time, the speed tests we did this summer at Courchevel have shown that I'm now above average compared with other athletes.
I also changed ski brands and the trials were more than conclusive. Sometimes I even had to be careful to not jump too far! In terms of physical condition, a specific weight-training programme has enabled me to gain power and momentum when leaving the ramp. And that's without putting on weight, which has a negative effect once you're in the air.
swissinfo: The winter forecast looks promising then. What goals have you set for yourself?
S.A.: For the first time the overall World Cup title seems within reach, even if Austrian Gregor Schlierenzauer is currently the best jumper on the planet. Another goal is to win the Four Hills Tournament, one of the most prestigious titles for the discipline. I'm definitely capable of doing that.
With an Olympic gold, a world champion title and a Four Hills Tournament under my belt, I'd enter the exclusive "Magic 7" club, a reference to the seven athletes who have already won all three. That motivates me enormously.
swissinfo: Mental preparation plays a big role in ski jumping. Your decade of top-level experience must serve you well in this regard.
S.A.: I learn a little more about ski jumping each day and that's why I've been at this high level for ten years. Thanks to routine, I begin competitions much more calmly than in the past. Pre-season nerves have been replaced by a healthy excitement.
swissinfo: You had a few tough years after winning double gold at the Salt Lake City Olympics. How do you view that period now?
S.A.: It was a very restless time. I needed stability and was eager to relive those thrills. I didn't pay attention to certain details and that prevented me from making progress. Things started to fall back into place in 2006 and I managed to capture the world championship title in 2007. But there's no point dwelling on the past or having regrets. What's important is that I feel great now and that I'm going into my last years of competition in a positive manner.
swissinfo: Did the two Olympic medals come too soon in your career?
S.A.: (Long pause) Nothing was easy after 2002, as I said. But I have incredible memories from Salt Lake City. Whenever I speak about it with friends or with journalists, I relive all those unforgettable moments. The trip to New York to be on David Letterman's talk show, being compared to Harry Potter, returning to Switzerland, the enormous media attention...
Ski jumping in the US has never been as popular as it was in February 2002. It's a beautiful story and if I could do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.
swissinfo-interview: Samuel Jaberg
The World Cup season begins this weekend in Finland. It ends on March 22 in Slovenia.
The World Championships will be held at the end of February in Liberec, Czech Republic.
Engelberg, in canton Obwalden, hosts two contests on the weekend of December 20-21.
The Four Hills Tournament takes place between December 28 and January 6 in Oberstdorf and Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany and Innsbruck and Bischofshofen in Austria.
Andreas Küttel, a 29 year old from canton Schwyz, will be the second Swiss to make the roster next to Simon Ammann.
Born on June 25, 1981 in Grabs, canton St Gallen, Simon Ammann made his debut at the World Cup in 1998 when he was 16. He participated in his first Olympics in Nagano the same year.
At the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 he caused a sensation by winning two gold medals in individual events. Nicknamed Harry Potter, mainly because of his round glasses, he suddenly became a media darling.
The four years after the games however were difficult for him and he was unable to perform well. His underperformance at the Olympics in Turin in 2006 served as a catalyst.
The following winter he made a comeback with two World Cup wins and a gold at the World Championships in Sapporo. Last season proved less prolific but Ammann ended the season in ninth position overall.
The furthest he has jumped is 218 metres at Planica in Slovenia in 2002.