PYEONGCHANG, South Korea: Double defending Olympic ski-jumping champion Kamil Stoch goes into the Pyeongchang Winter Games in scintillating form after his rare clean sweep of all four events at this year’s ultra-prestige Four Hills tournament.
The 30-year-old also stands atop the World Cup rankings, a competition he went on to win for the only time after his two gold medals at Sochi in 2014.
The youngest of three children, he was born in Zatopane in the extreme south of Poland at the foot of the Tatra mountains, scene of regular Nordic skiing events, a vast playground on his doorstep where he was first put on skis as a toddler.
By the age of eight he had his first coach and was already ski-jumping as part of a Nordic Combined (ski-jumping and cross country skiing combined) club.
He grew up enjoying a wide range of sports, is a keen fan of English football club Liverpool, and has qualified as a physical education teacher. Like many Poles he is a devout Roman Catholic and married his childhood sweetheart at just 22.
He sped through the ranks of Polish ski-jumping only to get stuck in the shadow of Adam Malysz who won three silver medals at Torino and Vancouver.
“I don’t try to win, I try to jump perfectly,” Stoch said after his recent Four Hills victory as he clutched the Golden Eagle trophy, which is seen as a kind of holy grail in the sport, rivalled only by the individual Olympic golds.
He first qualified for the Olympics at Torino in 2006 and again at Vancouver 2010, acquitting himself well but never quite making the top 10. All that changed in Russia at Sochi 2014 and all the signs had been there — a small hill world title in 2013 and World Cup top ranking going into the Games.
At the event itself he overcame illness to win gold on the small hill and took an aggressive approach and survived mistakes on the large hill to edge out veteran Japanese Noriaki Kasai. He thereby became just the third man in history to clinch the individual large and small hill golds, a feat only previously achieved by Finnish wildman Matti Nykanen at Calgary in 1988 and Swiss Harry Potter lookalike Simon Amman at Salt Lake in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010.
The outdoorsman with the piercing blue eyes then appears to have taken his foot off the gas somewhat, with two shockingly below par seasons.But by 2016-2017 his weightlifting and fitness program were in full swing, his old German coach was back on his team and results followed as he came second in the World Cup overall standings with seven victories and clinched the Four Hills tournament for the first time.
Poland’s Olympic gaze is now fixed on his diminutive frame in Pyeongchang, where Stoch, not a great traveller by his own admission, will be a long way from home but just a leap away from more Olympic glory.