The Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre looked like a scene from the movie “Rudy” Saturday.
Poland’s Kamil Stoch had just won the gold medal and was being paraded around on his teammates’ shoulders after his moment of glory. But unlike the movie, Stoch was just about the furthest thing from an underdog.
The 30-year-old defending gold medalist and current World Cup leader had long ago shed that title. But what he accomplished Saturday — that ‘Rudy’ moment — was that same sense of success in the face of adversity.
The favorite heading into the individual large hill event, Stoch delivered, edging out Germany’s Andreas Wellinger on the final jump to defend his crown Saturday, becoming the first man to repeat in the event since 1988.
In last Saturday’s normal hill finals, Stoch — jumping last as the world’s No. 1 — was in medal position after the first round, but an underwhelming second jump landed him just off the podium by just .40 points. Wellinger won the gold.
So when the same situation presented itself to Stoch again Saturday — staring down his newfound adversity — he reminded the competition who the king is. King Kamil.
Stoch landed a 136.5-meter jump. Shorter than Wellinger’s 142.0-meter jump that had given him the lead moments earlier. But the judges came through, rewarding Stoch for his superior landing and impeccable style.
Stoch, 285.7. Wellinger, 282.3.
Wellinger, just 22 years old, has been one of the breakout stars in PyeongChang, whether he realizes that yet or not.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “Come to the Olympics, win a gold and a silver medal in the two individual competitions. It’s unbelievable and I think I need a few more weeks to realize.”
And winning the bronze …
The first thing you noticed about him is his mustache.
The first thing announcers point out, is said mustache.
But, maybe it’s time to rethink Robert Johansson as more than a man with a delightful mustache that would put Borat to shame.
Johansson again asserted himself as one of the world’s most prominent jumpers, claiming his second bronze in PyeongChang with 257.3 points.
“I felt great since I got here and the jumping has been stable and now to stand here with two medals in two competitions is a lifetime goal,” Johansson said.
“It’s hard to describe because I’ve been dreaming of this since I was a little kid and now it’s finally happened.
“It’s a lot to to take in and think about how you got here, who has helped you and how much this taken from me, how hard I’ve had to push myself.”
Johansson — who posted the highest score in Friday’s qualifying round — has peaked at the right time. The 27 year old had just one top-15 World Cup finish entering the Games.
The biggest surprise on the day was Austria’s Michael Hayboeck. A relative unknown — ranked 24th in this year’s World Cup standings — Hayboeck landed the longest jump of the first round at 140.0 meters to sit in second-place. However, the 26-year-old couldn’t replicate his success in the final round and finished 6th at 267.7 points.
Stoch held the lead after the first round with 135.0-meter jump to close out the round. Although coming in a full five meters short of Hayboeck, Stoch absolutely stuck the landing, receiving 19.5 points (out of 20) for the style aspect.
After coming out of nowhere to land the farthest jump in Friday’s qualification round, Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi proved it was no fluke in the first round of the finals Saturday. Jumping, 26th, Kobayashi hit a 135.5-meter jump for 134.0 points to set himself up nicely for the second round, where he impressed with a 10th-place finish.
The bottom 20 jumpers were cut from the event following the first round. Among the cuts was Team USA’s Michael Glasder, who placed 46th of 50 qualifiers with a 114.0-meter jump but registered only 90.5 points for not nailing the proper Telemark landing —one foot slightly ahead of the other.
Kevin Bickner represented Team USA’s best shot at medaling since 1924 and through 25 jumpers it looked like the streak might come to an end. Bickner briefly sat atop the leaderboard with his 129.5-meter first-round jump, but was quickly buried under the top jumpers in the world, eventually finishing in 20th place and out of medal contention.
Japan’s Noriaki Kasai, competing in his record 8th Winter Games, finished 33rd and was also eliminated.
Ski jumping concludes Monday, Feb. 19 at 7:30 ET with the men’s team large hill event.