Four-time Olympic ski jump champion Simon Ammann received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Switzerland on Friday with fellow gold medallist Mike Schmid.
Ammann spoke to swissinfo.ch about his feelings on becoming the first ski jumper ever to take four individual golds – two in Salt Lake City in 2002 and another brace in Vancouver this year.
Around 400 fans, family and friends gathered at Zurich airport to pay tribute to the returning duo and raised the roof with a cacophony of cheers, hoots and – of course – cow bells.
Ammann wore his trademark gold tinted bug-eyed sunglasses that have so captured the attention of the public.
For once in his life, Ammann failed to land at the right place at the right time, as his flight was delayed by two hours. But that did not stop the jet-lagged flier from savouring the moment.
swissinfo.ch: What was it like to receive such a warm – and loud – welcome?
Simon Ammann: I was sleeping up until ten minutes before landing, and I was so surprised to see my girlfriend and my parents just as I came out of the plane that I could not say a word.
Seeing all those fans was a blast for me. I could enjoy it a lot more than eight years ago [after his success in the 2002 Olympics] when I was not so sure what would be coming. This time it is a really great feeling to be able to share the great moments with both the youngsters and older fans.
swissinfo.ch: When you started your sport did you ever imagine you could one day have four Olympic gold medals?
S.A.: Doing the double twice is much more than I could ever have imagined. It's incredible.
I first saw the Olympics in Lillehammer in 1994 and I remember Jens Weissflog from Germany winning another gold medal [in the large hill competition] after a ten-year wait. That was really inspiring for me.
He also gave the advice that it is important to [focus on] the jump itself, rather than the result. That has always helped me to focus on my tasks during my career.
swissinfo.ch: Can we expect more golds – and fancy sunglasses – from Simon Ammann?
S.A.: Let’s just wait and see.
I am always astonished when things outside of the sport, such as my sunglasses now or my Harry Potter image of eight years ago, get so much attention. It’s a great feeling to share my successes all over the world. That’s one of the greatest things about sport.
swissinfo.ch: The Austrians tried to put you off in Vancouver by complaining about your ski bindings. How much did this distract you?
S.A.: I have learned throughout the years that there are always new ways that the media can put pressure on athletes. Ski jumping should always be a gentlemen’s sport.
But every [competitor] sits up there on the gate by themselves – no-one can sit there with them. We were always prepared to jump well and that was always going to be the answer to these discussions.
swissinfo.ch: How different was Vancouver this year to Salt Lake City in 2002?
S.A.: It gets even better because it is always more difficult to win each gold medal.
The third one was very emotional, but even though I knew the importance of the Games, I was quite calm immediately before the jump.
On the big hill I was not so resistant to the stress because I knew this could be an historic moment. I had never before had such an opportunity to be so dominant.
swissinfo.ch: What goes through your mind as you take off on skis?
S.A.: With such perfect jumps I feel like a rocket on the run in. I get very balanced and when I take-off I feel immediately relaxed.
It is really like flying, just like people think it should be. We feel like we are weightless and feel the air and the acceleration. It gives the body a huge kick and… wow! Any ski jumper gets excited about such moments.
Matthew Allen at Zurich airport, swissinfo.ch
Simon Ammann launched himself into the record books in Whistler on February 20, 2010, by becoming the only ski jumper to win four individual Olympic gold medals.
He also stands alone as having achieved the double of winning both the normal and the large ski jump events at a Winter Olympics event on two occasions (Salt Lake City 2002 and Vancouver 2010).
By doing so he has now won more gold medals than any other Swiss winter Olympian.
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 and youthful appearance, 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.
Ammann lists sky diving, motorbike riding and golf as his hobbies away from his day job of ski jumping.