By David Ljunggren

Ammann had "a big backpack of memories" to contemplate, such as his two individual jumping golds in the 2002 Games followed by the 2006 Olympics where he flopped dismally.

"I knew that I had to jump very far. And with these events from yesterday, all that tragedy from yesterday, this gave me the idea of contemplating life," he told reporters, referring to the Georgian's fatal accident.

"Often it turns out to be different from what you had hoped for. And so this is what I want to cherish, the (special) moments. I have had a lot of luck in my career."

He joins Finland's Matti Nykanen as only the second man to win three individual jumping golds and can make history if he wins the large hill next week.

"It was a very good jump with full power and the takeoff was very fast ... For him, the small hill was a perfect competition and I think for the big hill he will be a big favorite," Ammann's coach, Martin Kuenzle, told Reuters.

Such success seemed unlikely following the 2006 fiasco when Ammann, whose owlish looks and round spectacles earned him the unwanted nickname Harry Potter, had to rebuild his technique.

His performances gradually improved and he now leads the current World Cup standings.

Yet his mind rarely strays from his past achievements and how to make best use of even the bad times.

"The task is not getting easier because you get a big backpack with memories you have to carry along the way," said Ammann, a thoughtful man who admits to baring his soul more than most competitors.

"At the right moment you have to focus so clearly just on the technique, and make it so smooth and powerful, that the spectators have the idea that 'He just stood up, came on the hill and came, saw and conquered'," he laughed.

"It's not like that. You have a lot of thoughts just (before) the jump."

Ammann, who likes skydiving in his spare time, can now focus on next week's large hill, where his greatest rivals are likely to be the Austrians, who performed poorly on Saturday.

"Quite frankly, even fifth place would have been a good result for me after my long career. I was really lucky that everything went very smoothly today ... now I'm back at the top of the world," he said.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)