ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) -A huge final leap of 128 metres by Manuel Fettner gave Austria the gold in the men’s team event in ski jumping at the Beijing Olympics on Monday, as the competition went down to the wire in a nail-biting finish.
Fettner flew through the air with the last jump of the day to give Austria a team total of 942.7 points, edging out Slovenia, who took the silver with 934.4 points, and bronze medallists Germany in the final ski jump event of the Games.
“It’s unbelievable. I’d say it’s one of the best days in my life, it’s a team with friends, and for the whole team and for Austria, it was great,” lead-off jumper Stefan Kraft said as his team mates slapped him on the back and celebrated.
The victory is Austria’s first in the large hill team event since the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, but they were pushed all the way by Germany and emerging ski-jumping superpower Slovenia, who took two gold, one silver and one bronze medal in Beijing to emerge top of the medals table.
On a freezing night where the air temperature was given as minus 19.4 Celsius when the competition got underway, gusts of wind occasionally delayed the jumps and the athletes wrapped themselves in Beijing 2022-branded blankets and waited their turn on the hill.
With each person in the four-man team jumping once in each round and their combined score going up against the rest of the field, there was no room for mistakes.
The 11 teams were whittled down to eight after the first round, with China, the U.S. and the Czech Republic eliminated before the serious business got underway, and it was nip and tuck between Austria, Slovenia, Germany and Norway right to the end.
Each team had held on to one of its top-ranked athletes to fight it out in the last round. World cup leader Karl Geiger put Germany briefly on top of the standings, and they secured a medal when Norway’s Marius Lindvik came up slightly short, eventually finishing fourth, an agonising 0.8 points behind the Germans.
The battle for gold went right down to the wire between Slovenia and Austria, with Peter Prevc putting Slovenia back into the lead before Fettner held his nerve to grab the gold for the Austrians with the last jump of all.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Hugh Lawson)