Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann has won the first gold medal of the Winter Games with a sensational performance in Whistler.
After two jumps off the normal hill, the 28-year-old amassed 276.5 points, seven points more than Poland’s Adam Malysz who took second.
Ammann shot his hands into the air and pumped his arms as the scoreboard lit up to show he’d won the event. “It’s unbelievable,” he told reporters moments afterward. “I have no words to describe the situation.”
The Swiss now owns three Olympic medals, all of them gold. In 2002 he won both the normal and large hill events in Salt Lake City, becoming only the second person ever to do so.
Ammann’s second jump of 108 metres on Saturday was the longest of the day and set a new hill record. His first jump totaled 105 metres, enough to put him in the lead from the start.
Austria’s Gregor Schlierenzauer, Ammann’s main rival, took third.
The Swiss has enjoyed a stellar season so far and came into the Games as the World Cup leader. A field of 51 jumpers were competing in Saturday’s contest.
Qualifying jumps for the medal round took place on Friday. Ammann was automatically qualified because he is a top-ten performer this year on the World Cup circuit. He still posted at 103-metre jump during the qualifier, having launched from a lower point on the ramp than many of his rivals.
Coming into the Games, Ammann was a medal contender but not the absolute favourite to win. That distinction belonged to Schlierenzauer, who has wowed the ski jumping world with an impressive string of victories. He has won 32 World Cup podium places although he is just 20 years old.
The Austrian posted the farthest jump during Friday’s qualifying rounds but faltered on Saturday. He leapt a paltry 101.5 metres on his first jump before soaring to 106.5 metres on his second jump. He ended up with 268 points, 8.5 points behind Ammann.
The two will compete against each other again on the large hill on February 19.
Switzerland's second ski jumper, Andreas Küttel, had a disappointing flight and did not qualify for the final round of the medal event.
The Swiss team is hoping to win ten to 12 medals at the Games. Athletes came home from Torino in 2006 with 14 medals.
swissinfo.ch and agencies
Swiss President Doris Leuthard will pay a visit to the Olympics from February 11-13 in time for the opening ceremonies.
Ueli Mauer, the sport minister, will then visit Vancouver toward the end of the Games from February 17-23.