French little bird ready to soar

By Julien Pretot

WHISTLER (Reuters) - Since 9/11, Jason Lamy Chappuis cannot sit in planes' cockpits any more, so the 23-year-old Frenchman, favorite for a Nordic combined Olympic gold, went out and learned to fly on his own.

"As a child, I would sit in the cockpit to enjoy the view, but since 9/11 things have changed obviously and I can't do it any more," said Lamy Chappuis. "But I have a private pilot license now, so it's OK."

Lamy Chappuis, 23, who has a French father and an American mother, has been dominating the field on ski-jumps and made huge progress in cross-country skiing, making him the man to beat in Sunday's event.

Being pegged as the gold-medal favorite does not bother Lamy Chappuis, who has a big cushion on top of the World Cup standings.

"I now have the good balance between jumping and cross-country," he told reporters. "I'm still pretty good in jumping and I have improved a lot on the skis so people look at me differently."

Four years ago in Turin, Lamy Chappuis was second after the jumping, only for him to crack in the cross-country portion and finish fourth overall.

LOVED BOTH

Lamy Chappuis, born in Missoula, Montana, moved to France in 1991 and started cross-country skiing at the age of five in the Jura Mountains, completing his first jump two years later.

"I loved both and did not want to give up either," he said.

Lamy Chappuis, nicknamed "My Little Bird" by his grandmother, said he is ready to take flight in Whistler's Olympic Park.

"With the World Cup almost in the pocket, it is easier for me to focus on the Olympics only," he said.

Lamy Chappuis got an extra confidence boost when he performed the longest jump with a 102-meter leap in Thursday's first training session.

"Usually, when the first jumping training goes well, I know I'm going to do well in competition," he said.

Lamy Chappuis, however, is aware that Finn Hannu Manninen, the 2007 world champion, has been focusing only on the Olympics this season.

"World championships or Olympic Games are very different from the World Cup. Some athletes prepare only for that and Manninen is one of them," he said.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)