Simon Ammann trying to surpass Matti Nykaenen in medals, not idiosyncrasies

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Affable Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann could overtake one of the most mercurial Olympians ever with another successful Games.

But when Ammann is asked about the embattled four-time Olympic champion Matti Nykaenen, he doesn’t recall the Finn’s ski jumping accomplishments. Nor Nykaenen’s problems in retirement.

“Last year, we had a really nice basketball game,” Ammann said after training Thursday night. “He was really in a good mood. Everything was fine. We had legends against the active jumpers. It was super cool.

“I got his shirt after, with his sweat and everything.”

Ammann came from nowhere to sweep the normal and large hill competitions at the 2002 Olympics at age 20. At the time, his resemblance to Harry Potter gave Ammann a hint of fame in the U.S.

He swept the same events at the 2010 Olympics to match Nykaenen’s record of four career Olympic ski jumping golds – though one of Nykaenen’s was a team gold. He also drew within one of Nykaenen’s record of five career Olympic ski jumping medals of any color.

One gold in Sochi and two medals of any color would make Ammann the solo most decorated Olympic ski jumper ever in either view.

WATCH: See Ammann’s golden moments at Vancouver

Ammann’s had his share of issues, capped by an equipment controversy and row with Austrians in 2010, but he’s dull compared to Nykaenen, who is now 50.

Here are some reported bullet points from the Finnish star since his triumphs at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics:

  • Fell asleep at the wheel and drove off a bridge
  • Engaged one week to a 17-year-old Estonian
  • Worked for a sex-chat phone line
  • Spent Christmas 2009 in jail after assaulting his estranged spouse, a sausage millionairess
  • Stabbed a friend after losing a finger-pulling competition
  • Worked as a stripper at a restaurant
  • Celebrity chef
  • Five marriages and bouts with depression and alcoholism
  • Released three music albums

Ammann is aware that Nykaenen’s reputation has been torn to shreds, again and again.

“I never went to his concerts,” Ammann said. “I was always a bit afraid of seeing him in a bad way.”

To Nykaenen’s credit, he has barely been in the news the last few years.

As for Ammann, he would not appear to be a gold-medal threat in Sochi. He’s ranked sixth in the World Cup standings and wasn’t better than 19th in three trial jumps Thursday night.

But history proves Ammann can’t be counted out. He soared to double gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games with a blank résumé of zero World Cup wins and no World Championships medals.

After a dreadful 2006 Olympics, Ammann upstaged Austrian megastar Gregor Schlierenzauer with the longest Olympic jump ever in 2010. Two more golds.

He’s since earned a pilot’s license and married a Russian, the latter inspiring him to make a serious run toward Sochi. Ammann questioned his future following the 2010-11 season.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Ammann said, pointing out the highs of Vancouver and taking part in the 2011 World Championships on the world’s most famous ski jumping hill in Oslo, Norway. “And so I was not able to really get rid of ski jumping. I was trying in one part, but inside I felt that I really have to go on and really get one more task to prove myself – not even prove – but to really find again the core of this sport, to get into this sport with all this extreme games in your mind, which this sport of course has. This is a great game. I’m happy that I really accept it.”

Ammann said his goal in Sochi is one medal. The color doesn’t matter. But to win one gold, a record fifth for a ski jumper, what would that mean?

“First I have to do it, then you can ask me that again,” he joked. “Five medals in our sport, it’s huge. I’m happy with my four. I would be even more happy with a fifth, but just with whatever color the medal is.”

Ammann then paused, thought and waxed on. His reflective words were a stark contrast to his memorable childlike screams following his first gold medal 12 years ago.

“Really, I come here for ski jumping,” Ammann said. “I see it more clearly. In the long-term view in the approach, you see the gold medal. When the first picture comes out, you look at it and think, oh, it’s a nice one. But the closer I get, the more it’s really about the sport because this is what I judge myself at the end.”

Chloe Dygert crashes over guard rail, fails to finish world championships time trial

Chloe Dygert
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American Chloé Dygert crashed over a guard rail and failed to finish the world road cycling championships time trial, where she appeared en route to a repeat title in Imola, Italy.

Dygert, who last year won by the largest margin in history as the youngest-ever champion, lost control of her bike while approaching a curve to the right. Her front wheel bobbled, and she collided with the barricade, flipping over into an area with grass.

Dygert, her legs appearing bloodied, was tended to by several people, put on a stretcher and taken toward an ambulance.

“All we know is that she is conscious and talking,” according to USA Cycling, about 25 minutes after the crash. “More updates to come.”

About 10 minutes after the crash, Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen won her first time trial title.

Van der Breggen took silver the last three years behind Dygert and countrywoman Annemiek van Vleuten, who missed this year’s race after breaking her wrist last week in the Giro Rosa.

Dygert, 23, had a 26-second lead at the 14-kilometer time check of the 31-kilometer race. Full results are here.

Dygert qualified for the Tokyo Olympics when she won last year’s world time trial title. She has been bidding to make the Olympics on the road and the track.

Worlds continue Friday with the men’s time trial airing on Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold for Cycling Pass subscribers at 8:15 a.m. ET. A full TV schedule is here.

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MORE: USA Cycling names Olympic team finalists

Diamond League slate ends in Doha with record holders; TV, stream info

Mondo Duplantis
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The Diamond League season ends on Friday in the place where it was supposed to start — Doha.

Like many sports, track and field’s calendar was put in disarray by the coronavirus pandemic. The Doha meet, originally scheduled for April 17 to open an Olympic season, was postponed five months while other stops were canceled altogether.

Now, Doha caps an unlikely season that still produced stirring performances. NBCSN coverage starts at 12 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Gold also streams live for subscribers.

The headliner is Swedish pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis, a leading contender for Male Athlete of the Year. Duplantis, who twice bettered the world record in February at indoor meets, last week produced the highest outdoor clearance in history, too, breaking a 26-year-old Sergey Bubka record.

Duplantis can mimic Bubka on Friday by attempting to raise his world record another centimeter — to 6.19 meters, or more than 20 feet, 3 inches.

The deepest track event in Doha is the finale, the women’s 3000m, featuring 3000m steeplechase world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, 5000m world champion Hellen Obiri and rising 1500m runner Gudaf Tsegay.

Here are the Doha entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

11:18 a.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
11:33 — Men’s 200m
12:03 p.m. — Men’s 400m
12:08 — Women’s Long Jump
12:12 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
12:21 — Men’s 1500m
12:34 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
12:43 — Women’s 800m
12:56 — Women’s 100m
1:07 — Men’s 800m
1:18 — Women’s 3000m

Here are three events to watch (statistics via Tilastopaja.org):

Men’s Pole Vault — 11:18 a.m.
Duplantis looks to complete a perfect 2020 against his two primary rivals — reigning world champion and American Sam Kendricks (who went undefeated in 2017) and 2012 Olympic champion and former world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France. Kendricks was the last man to beat Duplantis, at those 2019 World Championships, and is the only man to clear a height within nine inches of Duplantis’ best this outdoor season.

Women’s 100m — 12:56 p.m.
Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah looks poised to finish the year as the world’s fastest woman after clocking 10.85 seconds in Rome last week, her fastest time outside of Jamaica in more than three years. That’s one hundredth faster than countrywoman Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce‘s best time of 2020. Thompson-Herah was fifth and fourth at the last two world championships after sweeping the Rio Olympic sprints. Like in Rome, her primary challengers in Doha are Ivorian Marie-Josée Ta Lou and 2018 U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs.

Women’s 3000m — 1:18 p.m.
A meeting of titans in a non-Olympic event. Chepkoech is the fastest steeplechaser in history by eight seconds. Obiri is the fastest Kenyan in history in the 3000m and the 5000m. Tsegay, just 23, chopped 3.26 seconds off her 1500m personal best in 2019, taking bronze at the world championships to become the second-fastest Ethiopian in history in that event. In all, the field includes five medalists from the 2019 Worlds across four different events.

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