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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 00:39 GMT

Swiss 'Harry Potter' takes flight

BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay meets Swiss ski jumping star Simon Ammann.

In a stiff white shirt, and long grey trousers, he looks more like a 12-year-old schoolboy than a double Olympic champion.

Indeed, at just 5ft 8in, and with thick, rimmed glasses, he is more Harry Potter than ski jumping sensation.

But 20-year-old Simon Ammann (pronounced 'Seemon') is arguably the biggest star so far of these Salt Lake City Games.

TV chat shows

The Swiss starlet scooped both K90 and K120 gold this week, and as a result, has been catapulted onto the front page of the New York Times - and possibly onto television chat shows with Jay Leno and David Letterman.

"I'm afraid Eddie the Eagle was before my time. All I know is that his glasses were three times thicker than mine, but I can jump three times further than he did"
Simon Ammann

"It's unbelievable - all I did was a few ski jumps," he claims modestly.

Finn Matti Nykanen is the only other jumper in history to complete the Olympic double - that was in Calgary back in 1988, the competition made famous by Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards.

"To be put on a pedestal with the likes of Nykanen and Sven Hannawald is almost unreal.

"But I'm afraid Eddie the Eagle was before my time. All I know is that his glasses were three times thicker than mine, but I can jump three times further than he did."

For someone so young, and more pertinently someone who looks so young, Ammann appears to take every accolade very much in his stride, especially the comparison with his magical alter-ego.

"I can't deny we do resemble each other a bit. But I promise you there were no fairies weaving their wands over me on that hill.

Leap into unknown

"Maybe it was unexpected, and I suppose it does feel like I'm in a dream."

This wizard conjured up four fantastic leaps at the Utah Olympic Park - and in doing so captivated audiences back home in Switzerland.

"There has been an overwhelming response - we had a 65% audience rating," says SRG television boss Thomas von Grunigen.

"They have already started planning big parties for him when he returns.

"But I'm sure those two gold medals won't go to his head - he has very good people around him."

His main coach, Berni Schodler, brought in psychologists to prepare his athletes for the Olympics, and also believes his high flier will keep his feet firmly on the ground.

"He has shown here how he can concentrate on his sport, but also enjoy the atmosphere with people around him.

"Being able to switch between his two lives is a great asset.

"Hopefully, this is the start of something great for Simi and for the sport in Switzerland."

Apparently, Ammann now has his sights on jumping even greater distances than in the K120, in a new event known as 'ski flying'.

So maybe there is something magical about this Harry Potter lookalike after all.


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