By Peter Graves
If there were any doubts about Janne Ahonen’s ability to return to test the waters following a years “retirement” from the sport, they were quickly dispelled over this past weekend.
The Finnish national ski jumping championships were conducted in Lahti on Friday and Saturday and not surprisingly this flying Finn fired the first salvo that he is back with his sites set on a medal in Vancouver at the Olympic Winter Games.
Ahonen, 32,won the team jumping for the Lahden Hiihtoseura together with his former national team members, Ville Larinto, Kalle Keituri and Kimmo Yliresto, bagging the title in the team comp with 903. points. Second place went to the Ounasvaaran Hiihtoseura, which included Janne Ryynaenen, Olli Muotka, Sami Niemi and star Harri Olli who recieved 827.5 total points. Third place in the team comp went to the flyboys from the Kuopio ski club, which included Matti Hautamaeki and Janne Happonen scoring 822.0 points.
The next day offered a possible glimpse into Vancouver’s Olympic crystal ball. Ahonen–who has won just about everything in the sport of ski jumping– except an elusive individual Olympic medal, showed he is already back on form. Besting a field of national team members, Ahonen scored the longest jumps of the day of 127.5 meters and 124.5 meters to win the gold medal; at the national championships. The talented Harri Olli captured the silver medal scoring 246.5 points, while Janne Happonen was third with 240.6 points.
Following the events, Ahonen, who is a relatively quiet man, not given to grand prononucments, said it was a good start. ” I am satisfied with my jumps, although I still have some technical problems. It was my first competition after a break of about one and a half years and so I was a little nervous. It’s a different feeling than jumping only in training,” the five time winner of the Four Hills tournee said.
Ahonen will demonstrate his form for the world to see, when he continues his comeback on the plastic ski jumping hill at Klingenthal, GER at the concluding FIS Summer Grand Prix event in October.
Ahonen need not consider his age as a factor, for the national squad of Japan boasts a pair of top notch jumpers, Noraki Kasai, 35, and Takanobu Okabe, 39.