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By Simon Evans
PYEONGCHANG, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Germany's Andreas Wellinger flew through the freezing midnight air to win the Olympic gold medal in the men's normal hill individual ski jumping on Saturday.
Wellinger's leap of 113.5 metres, earning 259.3 points, edged out Norway's Johann Andre Forfang with Robert Johannsson, also from Norway, picking up bronze.
The 22-year-old Wellinger won gold in the team large hill in Sochi four years ago but it was his team mate Richard Freitag, with 10 World Cup podium finishes this season, who most Germans expected to be their contender for gold.
After his huge jump, Wellinger had to watch from the finish area as four other competitors tried to catch him, praying that his distance would be enough.
Freitag's jump of 102.5 metres was only enough for ninth place and there was disappointment for Poland's Kamil Stoch, seeking to become the first man to defend the title, who finished fourth.
Another Pole, Stefan Hula, who had led going into the final round, was last to go but finished in fifth place.
That left Wellinger staring into the now mainly empty stands in near disbelief.
"Its unbelievable, I think I need a few more days to realise it. The conditions all in all were pretty fair and if you did your best you could be close to the top," Wellinger told reporters.
"My second jump was really, really good. Waiting for four more competitors was not easy but it was unbelievable at the end," he added.
Wellinger said, though, that he had felt in qualifying that he was capable of producing something special.
"I knew in last few days that I was at a high level, I won in qualification, you have to have the right feelings, show the best jump, but Olympic gold medal? I don’t know what else to say," he said.
The late finish was partly the result of television scheduling designed for European audiences, with the final round starting at 10.30 pm local. But the wind also caused delays throughout the final round.
Bronze medallist Johansson, with his distinctive handlebar moustache, admitted the bitter cold, around -12 degrees, had been tough to handle.
"It was challenging in the second round, started to lose the feeling in my feet, but I ended up with a fantastic jump and managed to get on the podium. I will happily lose the feeling in my feet again if that happens," he joked.
Switzerland's 36-year-old Simon Ammann was unable to add to his record of four individual gold medals and had to settle for 11th place. (Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ed Osmond)