Ahonen Pursues First Individual Olympic Medal in Ski Jumping

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February 8, 2006

HELSINKI, Finland (AP by Marius Turula)—Janne Ahonen was just 16 when he first won a World Cup ski jumping event. Since then, he has taken home almost every major medal imaginable.

Except one.

"I don't have an individual Olympic medal, and I will pursue one, said the 28-year-old Ahonen. "If I want a medal, it has to be done now.

This will be Ahonen's fourth Winter Olympics. He came away from the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics with a silver medal in the team event, but fell short on the normal hill and large hill events.

He is a favorite for the Turin Games, but knows the margin for error is small.

"Two jumps are nothing, and they still can mean so much, Ahonen said. "I still need to work on some aspects of my jump.

It was as a kid in December 1993, when Ahonen jumped to the first of 34 victories at World Cup meets.

He has turned into one of the all-time greats in the sport. In 2005, he was named Finland's athlete of the year.

"Only for the two, three last years I have had a thorough knowledge of my jumping, he said. "At the top it all depends on how you feel it in your head. I have also learned to stretch myself in competition.

Ahonen says he doesn't get intimidated by pressure or from foreign crowds. Unlike many others, he doesn't picture making jumps in his mind.

"Only sometimes, as a half-joke, I can picture myself jumping, when I don't get sleep, Ahonen said.

Ahonen has concentrated on gaining more strength for the jump-off, and that carried him 240 meters last year at Planica, Slovenia. It was the longest second-round jump, but Ahonen had to take it down on the flat, and, slightly touching the ground, he dropped from second to sixth.

The world record for a standing jump is 239 meters, completed a few minutes earlier by Norway's Bjorn Einar Romorens.

Ahonen won 12 of his 23 events last season to claim the World Cup title for the second year in a row. He is a two-time world champion individually as well as in team competition.

The Finn's sharp, concentrated gaze and stoic look are legendary on the ski jumping circuit. A smile on his face is a rarity, unless he is among close friends.

Who knows, the rest of the world might get to see that smile if he finally comes with an Olympic gold medal.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press