Double Olympic ski-jumping champion Simon Ammann has been promoting the sport to youngsters during a whistle-stop tour of Switzerland.
Ammann's flying antics made him an overnight star at last February's Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, but even he needed the help of a helicopter to fit in visits to six different ski jumps on Saturday.
"The idea is to travel around and get as many youngsters as we can onto the hill," Ammann told swissinfo during his first stop-off at the Gurten slope overlooking Bern. "We want them to get a feel for the sport so that they want to try it for themselves, even though they'll soon realise that it's not as easy as I make it look."
Following demonstrations by Ammann's colleagues, the first set of kids were given their introduction to the sport with Ammann himself releasing them down a daunting-looking dry ski slope.
None of the children were encouraged to soar "Simon-style" during their first ski-jumping taster, but as Ammann headed off for appearances in Einsiedeln, Gibswil and Wildhaus, Bern ski-jumping organiser Martin Heim said he was confident that many would be coming back for more.
"We've tried for years to get new youngsters interested in the sport but we never had much luck before," Heim admitted. "Perhaps there were just too many other types of sport to grab their attention."
Salt Lake boost
Heim said all that had changed now, thanks to those four magical days in Salt Lake City.
"Straight after Simon's jumps I was getting calls from people wanting to know if he had ever jumped on the Gurten," Heim told swissinfo. "Well, he certainly did, as a youngster. But he only ever finished second or third from last - that too shows the children here today how things can change!"
Also on hand to echo that sentiment was Hippolyt Kempf, Switzerland's only Olympic champion in a Nordic event prior to Ammann himself. The 1988 Nordic combined gold medallist explained how an early introduction to ski-jumping could pay off.
"I only got into jumping accidentally myself," Kempf recalled, "but after a while of experiencing what it's like to fly, I just wanted to do it all the time. As soon as you take that first step, then you're hooked, so I'm sure we'll be able to keep a lot of these kids interested in the sport."
Ammann's experiences certainly testify to the rewards that are attainable, but also to the dedication that is demanded. Following his lightning tour of Switzerland, the young star is heading off for some physical training in Spain before more jumping practice in Austria a week later.
All this while revising for his college exams in the autumn when, unsurprisingly, he says he'll again be aiming for top place.
by Mark Ledsom, Bern
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