There’s been an ebb and flow to Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann’s career over the past six Olympic Games. Like the sport of ski jumping itself: what goes up, must come down.
He flops, and then sweeps gold on normal and large hills, and flops again. But he rebounds, and sweeps again, before the pendulum swings the other way.
Ammann has made a career of the process of peaking, then bottoming out, since 1998, where he made his first Olympic appearance at the tender age of 16. He barely cracked the top 40 in each of his individual events: he finished 35 on the normal hill and 39th on the large hill.
At the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002 – though still without any wins on the World Cup circuit – he struck gold on the normal and large hills. He became an overnight celebrity. Plus, his likeness to the fictional boy wizard Harry Potter didn’t hurt. His round glasses and boyish charm made him a popular guest on late-night talk shows in the U.S. and abroad. One friend joked that he was more jealous that Ammann once kissed Shakira on the cheek than he was of his dual gold medals.
Four years later in Torino, Ammann’s jumps hit another slump. The defending gold medalist on both hills only managed a 38th place finish on the normal hill and a 15th place finish on the large hill.
At the 2007 World Championships, his career was on the upswing. He earned two medals: gold on the large hill and silver on the normal hill. At the 2009 Worlds, he earned a normal hill bronze.
At the 2010 Vancouver Games, Ammann bounced back. He reclaimed gold on both hills and debated retiring and going out on top of his game. He continued to ski jump, adding family life to the mix. He married his wife, Yana, in June 2010. Still riding the wave of success, Ammann won another medal at 2011 Worlds, this time a bronze on the large hill.
As the defending gold medalist in two events, Ammann carried Switzerland’s flag at the Opening Ceremony at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. His career took a downward turn in Sochi, though. He finished 17th on the normal hill and 23rd on the large hill.
A few months later, he joked in an interview about continuing to 2018, his sixth consecutive Olympic Games: “Basically there’s always eight years between the gold medals for me. So it would be my turn again.”
He also mentioned looking for inspiration from Noriaki Kasai, who set a record in Sochi by jumping in his seventh consecutive Olympics. Ammann said he asked his chief of communications for a picture of Kasai to hang on his wall.
Ammann’s pending retirement was continuously called into question, especially after suffering a scary crash in January 2015. He went on to compete at 2015 Worlds a few months later, though, and finished 16th on the normal hill and 23rd on the large hill. In the spring and summer of 2015, he redoubled his efforts in the sport and changed his landing technique.
He finished 21st on the normal hill and 14th on the large hill at the world championships in 2017, the biggest competition before the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics kick off. Only time will tell if Ammann will soar or stumble in what is likely his final Olympic appearance.