Less than a month after a serious accident, three-time Olympic champion Thomas Morgenstern was back ski jumping on Thursday on the first night of training in Sochi.
Morgenstern had a horrendous fall in training on Jan. 10 that left him with head and lung injuries, placing his Olympic appearance in jeopardy. But the Austrian veteran looked untroubled Thursday and gradually improved on each of his three jumps from 31st to 12th and then eighth.
"Training was good, maybe not perfect, but I'm just going step by step," Morgenstern said. "My hope here is to enjoy the games and get back home safely. There is no pressure at the moment because of the fall. I could surprise."
The training session on the normal hill was held at night to simulate conditions for Sunday night's final.
As one of the lowest-ranked jumpers in the 68-man field, Nicholas Alexander of the United States got the distinction of being the first competitor to experience the hill at the floodlit RusSki Gorki Jumping Center under Olympic conditions. Another training session was set for Friday, with qualifying Saturday for Sunday's late-evening final.
Anders Jacobsen of Norway fell hard on his landing in his first jump and was helped off the hill by medical officials. Jacobsen did not jump in the second round, although he did not appear to be seriously injured.
Vancouver 2010 gold medalist Simon Amman of Switzerland, bidding for a record fifth Olympic gold, was 19th in his best of three jumps. Current World Cup leader Kamil Stoch of Poland had a 10th as his top finish Thursday.
Japanese veteran, 41-year-old Noriaki Kasai, did not start Thursday's training session, but team coach Tomoharu Yokokawa said he was just resting.
"Kasai is the type of person who shows his best at the end of the competitions," Yokokawa said.
All the finals at Sochi will begin about 8:30 p.m., making it late morning to early afternoon on the east coast of the United States. Day finals would be outside prime television viewing time.
"In the really newer facilities like here, there's such good lighting you don't really even notice," said Canadian jumper Trevor Morrice. "You might change your lens in your goggles, that's just about it."
His teammate, Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes, said night jumping might even be an advantage.
"Sometimes during competitions in the day, the sun can slow the track down and at night it can be colder," Boyd-Clowes said. "All the hills nowadays have refrigeration systems on the track, so I don't think we'll have too many problems with the snow melting."
After Sunday's men's final, the women mark a historic first Olympic appearance with a gold medal final next Tuesday on the normal hill.