PARK CITY, Utah - Like gunslingers at a Western shootout, the top three ski jumpers left nothing in the chambers during the final jump at the 90-meter event yesterday morning.
The crowd of 18,999 went wild as each man upped the ante during the final three minutes of competition.
Switzerland's Simon Ammann, the last to compete, coolly landed a 98.5-meter jump to walk away with the gold at Utah Olympic Park. His two-jump total score was 269.
He was immediately buried beneath his two teammates as they rolled on the snow in joy, and then was hoisted to their shoulders in a victory lap. Ammann earned the first Swiss medal in ski jumping since the 1972 Winter Games.
"I still can't believe it," Ammann said. "The feeling before the first jump was horrible. I was so nervous. I've never won a World Cup [event] and now this."
Sven Hannawald of Germany, who led before the last try, took silver with a jump of 99 meters and a total score of 267.5.
Adam Malysz, known as the "Polish Batman," finished third with a final jump of 98.5 meters and a total score of 263. Malysz won 11 World Cup events last season, including five in a row, and had seven to his credit this season.
Hannawald said his second-place finish was disappointing, "but in any case, the best won today."
The green American team - three of the five jumpers are still in their teens - got some Olympic seasoning. Clint Jones and Brian Welch, with identical scores of 89.5, were cut after the qualifying round that reduced the field from 60 to 38. Their jumping distance of 80 meters was 14 meters off the leader's pace.
Just making the cut was Brendan Doran, tied for 36th place with a score of 91.5. But Doran was gone after the first jump in the final round.
Alan "Airborne" Alborn, 15th in the World Cup standings, was in the best shape after the first round, with a score of 114.5 points, good enough for 11th place. And that was where he finished the competition.
In ski jumping, competitors receive roughly equal scores for distance and style. The five style judges can give a maximum score of 20 points. The highest and lowest scores are dropped. Skiers get mandatory deductions for failing to make a traditional telemark landing: one ski slightly in front of the other with arms extended.
Hannawald had the momentum coming into Olympic competition, having swept the Four Hills tournament last month in Austria and Germany, the first man to do that in the event's 50-year history. And European bookmakers had made the 90-meter race a two-man competition between Hannawald and Malysz.
History wasn't a factor for several athletes or countries.
Finland, which has supplied four of the past six large hill Olympic champions and two of the past four normal hill winners, had to settle for fourth, fifth and sixth place. Janne Ahonen, who posted the longest jump of the day in the first official training last week - 95.5 meters - finished just out of the medals. Matti Hautamaeki's top-10 finishes in his past 12 World Cup events didn't help him, as he finished sixth.
Japan also had a tough time. Kazuyoshi Funaki, 120-meter winner and 90-meter silver medalist in Nagano, Japan, in 1998, never overcame a mid-season funk and finished ninth. The winner of three Olympic medals, Masahiko Harada, tied for 20th.