ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - An 18-year-old Olympic debutant helped propel Germany to a dramatic victory over defending champions Austria in the men’s ski jumping competition at the Sochi Games on Monday.
In a see-saw battle that saw the lead change hands several times, Austria held a tiny 0.3 point lead over the Germans with two jumps left after a fine effort by Thomas Morgenstern, who is still recovering from two bad crashes.
But the Germans then grabbed the advantage through a stupendous 134.5 meter jump by 18-year-old schoolboy Andreas Wellinger and won the gold on the final leap of the evening by Severin Freund.
Germany ended on 1,041.1 points compared to 1,038.4 for Austria. The elated German quartet jumped up and down and hugged each other after the result flashed up on the scoreboard.
Asked how confident he had been of victory after landing the final jump, Freund laughed: “Zero percent ... from the reaction of the other guys, I knew it was going to be close.”
Japan finished well behind in third place, earning a bronze for 41-year-old Noriaki Kasai to go with the silver he won in the large hill individual event.
Wellinger’s crucial sixth round jump of 134.5 meters came days after he finished a miserable 45th in the individual large hill competition, jumping 117 meters.
“(The jump) was no good... to look back at the individual is bad for me and the whole team. I focused on training yesterday and the competition today,” he told reporters.
The German victory ended an unbeaten streak for the Austrian team at the Olympics and World Championships that went back all the way to 2005.
It was doubly special for German team member Andreas Wank, who turned 26 on Tuesday minutes after the end of the late night competition.
Asked how he would celebrate, he said: “We’ll see if we can get a beer now because there’s no alcohol in the Olympic village.”
For the once-dominant Austrians, who won the Olympic team gold in 2006 and 2010, the silver was some compensation for a bad two weeks in which the squad underperformed amid media reports of internal tensions.
“It’s really great to get a medal. The Germans deserve it, they did a good job... silver is OK,” said Gregor Schlierenzauer, who had told reporters the day before that the team was not in the best of shape.
The Austrians had steamrollered their opponents in an anti-climatic 2010 competition but there was tension in the Russian night air right from the start on Monday.
Norway took the lead in the first round after a monster jump of 137.5 meters by Anders Bardal but quickly fell behind.
The Germans edged ahead on the fourth and final jump in the first round. Austria retook the lead after the fifth jump and were still just ahead after the sixth.
For Austria’s Morgenstern, the silver medal was his fourth at the Olympics after two golds in 2006 and one in 2010.
Morgenstern, 27, said he would reconsider his future after the Games and Schlierenzauer has talked of taking time off.
If the two jumpers do decide to leave the sport, it could open the way for other nations such as Germany, Poland, Slovenia and Japan.
Germany’s Freund told reporters: “It was a perfect day for us. We are an extremely balanced team and I think this may be the first step also for individual titles in the future”.
With additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan in Rosa Khutor, editing by Peter Rutherford and Ken Ferris