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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 11:25 GMT

Tough at the top

BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay takes a deep breath and watches the ski jumping final from the top of the K120 hill.

Music accompanies most events at these Winter Olympics.

But watching the first brave souls fly down in the K120 ski jumping final, I wondered whether Queen's 'Another one bites the dust' was entirely fitting.

From the top of the hill, and with my legs less than steady as a result, I was even less sure.

Looking down the take-off run, every self-preservation instinct in my body immediately kicked in, and confirmed how brave or mad the guys who hurl themselves down it on a regular basis really are.

And it is like a take-off, not least because the sound that signals their launch sounds uncannily like an airport alert.

It's almost as if the officials are saying something like: 'The next loony to throw himself off the hill is now ready for a grim fate at Gate 19.'

Gate 19, you see, was the start point on the runway that officials decided would be best given the changeable winds.

After accelerating away and leaving the ground, the jumpers stayed in vision for a few seconds before disappearing beneath the knoll.

Experts alongside me were able to say 'Holy smoke, that's huge' with total confidence - I, on the other hand, had to wait for the reaction of the masses below for confirmation.

Having soon had my fill at the top of the hill, I chose the chairlift for my descent - which was almost equally unnerving.

The jumpers were flying by on one side, and coming back up on the other in the chairs for their second run.

I shouted across to Japanese legend Masahiko Harada as he passed by - but I think my good wishes lost something in the translation.

Back on solid ground, I mingled with the large crowd, especially the boisterous Poles there for their man Adam Malysz, who eventually took silver.

The Emergency Hot Chocolate Brigade, a female version of a barber-shop quartet, were also in good voice - but disappointingly had no drinks to comfort the crowd on a rather cold Wednesday morning.

Instead, it was left to new kid on the block Simon Ammann, already K90 champion here, to warm the Utah Olympic Park with another two superb leaps.

Sven Hannawald's fall on landing ensured gold for the Swiss starlet.

But it was nevertheless a second superb performance from the 'King of the Hill', and one which I fully appreciated after my five minutes of fear.


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