Gold medalist Kamil Stoch of Poland celebrates after the Men's Large Hill Individual Final Round on day 8 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center on February 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) Kamil Stoch considers himself fortunate to have won his second gold medal of the Sochi Olympics, overcoming what he called a ”tragic” final jump Saturday to claim a narrow victory over Japanese veteran Noriaki Kasai.
Still, the 26-year-old from Poland will take it, completing a sweep of the normal and large hills and becoming only the third jumper – after Simon Amman and Matti Nykanen – to win double jumping golds in the same Winter Games.
”I have weird thoughts at this moment. I’m thinking, `Is it happening for real or is it a dream?”’ he said.
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”I’m not thinking about the fact that I’m third in history. It’s a shock for me that I made it because of the jumps I did today. The second jump was tragic.”
Stoch, who dedicated the win to his wife, Ewa, as a belated Valentine’s Day wish, said he was lacking in confidence heading into the final.
”Today I was nervous all day from the morning to the end of the competition,” he said. ”I made some mistakes, but what the heck, I won the competition.”
Kasai took silver while Peter Prevc of Slovenia, who won silver in the normal hill, earned the bronze Saturday.
Jumping last in the first round after the trial round was canceled due to fluctuating winds, Stoch jumped 139 meters and totaled 143.4 points to give him a three-point lead over Kasai, a margin the Japanese jumper whittled down to 1.3 points after the final round.
Kasai, whose first Olympics was at Albertville, France in 1992, now has Olympic medals 20 years apart – he won his first, a team silver with Japan in the large hill – in 1994 at Lillehammer, Norway.
Kasai finished eighth in the normal hill last week, but said Saturday he should have done better.
”I took the medal that I didn’t take in the normal hill,” Kasai said. ”Then I felt regret and now I feel happy.”
A gold by Kasai would have broken a week-old record set by Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the 40-year-old cross-country skier from Norway who won gold in the 10-kilometer sprint at Sochi.
”All these years I was disappointed by the Olympic Games. Today I just had to do it,” Kasai said. ”I wanted gold but you know, it is what it is.”
Amman, the defending champion from 2010 – he also won the normal hill that year in Vancouver – had a chance to win a record fifth Olympic gold medal. But the 32-year-old Swiss jumper, who has said he will likely retire soon, never looked the part in training or on Saturday and finished 23rd.
”It’s hard preparing for three years … I have to take it easy for the rest of the season,” Ammann said. ”It’s not the greatest feeling right now.”
Three Americans who qualified for Saturday’s final – Nicholas Alexander of Brattleboro, Vt., Anders Johnson of Park City, Utah, and Nicholas Fairall of Andover, N.H., didn’t make it to the second round. Fairall was 35th, Alexander 48th and Johnson was disqualified – along with Canadian Matthew Rowley – for suit violations.
The 7,500-capacity crowd didn’t appear to mind waiting while the wind ribbon zipped sideways in alternate directions for a while, forcing the first round to start 15 minutes late. Men with Viking helmets, kids dressed up in bunny costumes and one optimistic local wearing a hat with three podiums – all flying Russian flags – added to the atmosphere.
The men return to action on Sunday with training rounds for the team event to be held Monday night. Austria is the defending champion but Japan is now a big favorite after four of its jumpers finished in the top 13 on Saturday.