Reuters - Tue, 23 Feb 18:51:00 2010
Simon Ammann from Switzerland effortlessly won two Olympic ski jumping golds but is already signalling that he may quit as early as next year, leaving the way open for Austria to regain total control over the sport.
This June the diminutive chatty Swiss jumper will turn 29, which is relatively old for a sport traditionally dominated by younger and more fearless athletes.
Ammann, who now has a record four individual jumping golds, will be in Oslo for next year's World Championships.
He was vague when asked about defending his title at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia and expressed concern about rule changes which he said would make jumping harder.
"I'm not sure if I will jump in Sochi but it was always my plan to compete until Oslo and then to decide which chances I see for myself... let's see what happens," he said.
Ammann won the normal and individual hills thanks to good mental preparation and the failure of the highly rated Austrians to deal with the weight of expectation.
The Austrians initially complained that Ammann's modified boot bindings allowed him to fly further than anyone else but eventually conceded they had lost to a master.
"Of course, Simon Ammann is perfect," said Austrian coach Alexander Pointner after his athletes had won the team event.
When Ammann retires, Austria will likely dominate. Thomas Morgenstern, who won two golds in 2006 and now has three in total, is just 23 and said he definitely planned to go to Sochi. He is sure to be joined by 20-year-old Gregor Schlierenzauer, who only managed to win two individual bronzes in Canada.
No other nation has anywhere near the strength in depth of the Austrians. The Finns have done very well in the past but look too erratic - and old - to pose a challenge now while the Norwegians are promising at best.
The Germans, who won silver in the team event, are rebuilding their squad.
The Austrians, generally heavier than Ammann, could also benefit from new rules designed to make life harder for lighter jumpers. As of next season, the minimum weight limit for competitors will be raised and skis will be shortened.
It was perhaps no coincidence that Poland's Adam Malysz, who took the silver on both hills, also shares Ammann's small, light build. Malysz, 32, seems unlikely to be in Sochi.
Whatever happens to Ammann, the sport will surely miss an unusually thoughtful and philosophical athlete. The evening after he won the large hill he huddled together with his coaches and watched a replay of the whole event.
"There are a number of things you don't realise when you jump - the tragic moments for some people, which you don't even see if you just celebrate your own victory," he said.
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