Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Austrian 'Eagles' soar to ski jump success

WHISTLER, Canada — Austria's invincible ski-jumpers soared to a convincing Olympic gold medal on Monday in the team event for a record-tying fifth consecutive title at major competitions.

Young gun Gregor Schlierenzauer just managed to stay on his skis in the final jump of the day to lead the 'Eagles' to victory over Germany and Norway.

They scored 1107.9 points -- the highest in Olympic team history -- to Germany's 1035.8 and Norway's 1030.2.

"I feel so fantastic. It is a dream. And now three, three gold medals (in his Olympic career)," said Austrian jumper Thomas Morganstern.

"I really can't believe this. We have all done it together, such great friends, such a great team."

Schlierenzauer, 20, had already picked up individual bronze on both the normal and the large hill.

"For me, this has been a perfect first Olympics," he said. "I won three medals. For myself, I have to say individual medals are better, but it's great to be Olympic champion with the team."

Schlierenzauer was the star of the show, with his two jumps of 140.5m and 146.5m so impressive that his personal score of 290.1 points was more than Simon Ammann's gold medal winning score of 283.6 in the large hill individual on Saturday.

Austrian coach Alexander Pointner told AFP: "This is fantastic. All the guys jumped at the highest level. I am really proud of them."

For Austria, it was a record-tying fifth consecutive team gold at major competitions after previous large hill triumphs at Turin in 2006 and at the 2005, 2007 and 2009 world championships.

In stark contrast, their men's Alpine team has failed to make any impression to the chagrin of their army of fans.

That failure meant the Austrians had no other option Monday than to take the gold after Swiss sensation Simon Ammann embarrassed them by outclassing Pointner's men in both the individual events.

The Austrians tried to have Ammann's new curved boot bindings ruled illegal but organisers rejected out of hand an attempt which clearly caused some ill-feeling between the two neighbours and winter sports giants.

"I have to say Simon Ammann is a one-off. But it was my duty as coach to say something and question his material. We accepted the decision on his bindings but the issue got out of hand and was played up in the media," Pointner said.

Germany used team consistency to place second, as its jumpers ranked in the top four in seven of the eight groupings.

Michael Neumayer's final jump of 136.5m preserved the medal and the emotional Germans celebrated as if it was a gold.

"My dream come true," said Neumayer. "Today was really perfect. The weather was really nice and the jumps were very long."

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