Swiss ski jumping icon Simon Ammann is a four-time Olympic champion who hasn’t lost his will to fly farther.
Prior to the opening of the new season at the end of November, he tells swissinfo.ch where his ambitions lie.
Simon Ammann has won more medals at the Olympic games than any other Swiss – four – after adding two gold medals at Vancouver to two won at Salt Lake City
But the perfectionist wants to go further, after a bad patch recently.
swissinfo.ch: After an exceptional winter, where you got two Olympic titles, and won the World Championships in Slovenia, was it hard to go back to work in the summer?
Simon Ammann: To tell you the truth, I would have preferred to skip that period and keep the good form I had last winter. This summer, there were a few hiccups: at the beginning of July, my back started to play up. I had to do a lot of exercise to sort out an instability at the base of my spine. I couldn’t even do up my shoes on my own. Now I can flex my legs while carrying 85 kilo weights, so in that respect it is going rather well.
I have also had very good experiences on the side, like working with two new sponsors. It’s not only a question of money, but also of stimulation and motivation. For example, I worked with one of the best sport photographers in the world. I was impressed by the passion he put into his work. Then there is of course my wedding to my wife Yana, in July. It was an exceptional day on Lake Zurich, even though keeping it a secret failed in the end. (Laughs).
swissinfo.ch: When you have a very strong emotional experience, like at Vancouver, is it easy to come back to earth and set new targets?
S.A.: Fabian Cancellara explained the way he had found himself in a “hole” after his medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
It’s almost unavoidable. Last winter, everything went perfectly well.
I reached the almost unattainable goals I had set myself. It was difficult for me to forget about Vancouver. After such an emotional peak, a sense of emptiness is unavoidable.
There was a period of insecurity, but thankfully, I have always been able to rely on my environment, which has always helped me. It also works on a non-verbal level; the people who surround me know when I am tired and when I need a break.
Now I am happy to be back on the ski-jump. I am calm and serene again.
swissinfo.ch: With your double titles at Salt Lake City and Vancouver, you have become an icon of modern Switzerland. What has this changed in your life?
S.A.: I don’t notice it in my everyday life. When I am presented as the Swiss who has won the most medals, I find it difficult to believe it is all real. I should also say that it is amazing how much people restore this energy and these emotions. It has really helped me find a new motivation. But I also know the public expects a lot.
swissinfo.ch: Precisely. Are you going to be able to rise to these expectations?
It is important for me to set myself more realistic goals. Of course, I hope to win a few victories, but one must be prepared for some possibly more modest results. I do not know exactly what the competition will be like. Some ski jumpers who put a lot of pressure on themselves for the Olympics may free themselves up to jump further.
As I have already said, it was an eventful summer. Beside the physical and emotional aspects, there has also been some change regarding material. I had adapt to shorter skis because of new weight-related regulations.
I have tried in the past to increase my weight, but it didn’t really work. But I have realised that when I jump well, shorter skis support me very well. It’s a good thing to know.
swissinfo.ch: Which events are particularly important to you?
S.A.: The Four Hills Tournament will certainly be a priority. It would be fantastic to fill in the gaps in my list of achievements. The other focus of this season will be the World Championships in Oslo. I have always liked competing there, whether it be on the old ski-jump or on the new one.
As for the World Cup overall, it is very difficult to speculate. All will depend on the first competitions. I hope the media and the public will give me a bit of space. New challenges are ahead and I want to approach them without pressure. But if all goes well, this winter could be another success.
swissinfo.ch: And finally, how long are you likely to continue your ski jumping career?
S.A.: I don’t know the answer to this question myself. It could be that I decide to stop at the end of the season, but I may also continue until the Sochi games in 2014. I will not think about it this winter. If all goes well and my back doesn’t hurt, I shall certainly not stop next spring.
Simon Ammann is Switzerland’s most decorated Olympic athlete, having won four gold medals.
He launched himself into the record books in Whistler in February 2010, winning two gold medals. He won two gold medals in Salt Lake City in 2002.
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.
Born on June 25, 1981 in Grabs, canton St Gallen, 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.
Nicknamed Harry Potter, mainly because of his round glasses and youthful appearance, he became a media darling after the 2002 Games.
Ammann lists sky diving, motorbike riding and golf as his hobbies away from his day job of ski jumping.
The ski jumping season starts on November 26 at Kusaamo, in Finland, and goes on until March 20 in Planica, Slovenia.
The Four Hills Tournament, which traditionally takes place at the eve of the new year, will be one of the focal points of the season for Simon Ammann, who has never won the tournament.
Another greatly awaited event is the world championships, which take place from February 22 to March 6 in Oslo, Norway.
Like every year, the world Cup will stop in canton Obwalden, in the resort of Engelberg (December 17-19).
Among players in the Swiss team, there will be Andreas Küttel, Marco Grigoli and Simon Ammann.
(Translated from French by Emily Wright), swissinfo.ch