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Swiss ski jumper captures first gold medal of Games

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The first gold medalist of the 2010 Winter Games is the guy who won two golds in Salt Lake City eight years ago.

If the name Simon Ammann doesn’t ring a bell, maybe this will: He’s the Swiss ski jumper who looked a lot like Harry Potter.

Now 28 — and no longer a double for the boy wizard — Ammann is again the best in the world. He won the individual normal hill title Saturday for the honor of being the first of 86 champions to be crowned at the Vancouver Games.

Four more gold medals were to be awarded Saturday. It would’ve been five, but the men’s downhill was postponed because of warm, wet weather in Whistler.

Among the things to watch for was whether Canada would get its first gold medal at home, having been shut out in Montreal at the 1976 Summer Games and at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.

Who will be first to stir up a spirited rendition of “O Canada”? Odds are it’ll be either moguls skiers Jenn Heil or Kirsti Richards, or speedskater Charles Hamelin, all in action Saturday night.

Competition at the 21st Winter Olympics opened Saturday with all eyes and heavy hearts on the Whistler Sliding Center. Sliders resumed training on a repaired and slightly reconfigured track the day after a 21-year-old luger from the republic of Georgia died following a crash on the last turn of a training run.

The starting point for the men was shifted to the women’s start ramp, which should slightly slow speeds throughout the treacherous track. That also should help improve control.

American luger Tony Benshoof, who hurt his foot when he slammed into a wall Friday, was first down the course Saturday morning and he navigated all 16 turns without incident. The final turn, where Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed, now has a 12-foot-high wooden wall to cover exposed steel beams. Workers also scraped and shaped ice from the edges of the last turn.

The International Luge Federation and Vancouver Olympic officials said Friday night their investigation showed that the crash was the result of human error and there was “no indication that the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track.”

Ammann’s victory in the ski jump was decisive — he posted the longest jumps in both rounds. His score of 276.5 points far beat his 269 from Salt Lake. At Turin in ’06, Ammann went out in the first of two rounds, finishing 38th.