Despite turning 41 in 2013, Japanese ski jumping legend Noriaki Kasai shows no signs of slowing down. A fixture on the global circuit since 1989, he has appeared in more World Cup events and Olympic Games than any other ski jumper in history.
The call of the hillNoriaki Kasai was born in 1972 in Shimokawa, Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. That same year the XI Olympic Winter Games were held in Sapporo, just a few dozen kilometres from the Kasai family home, a sign perhaps of where his future would lie. The young Noriaki first tried his hand at track and field, taking part in 10,000m races, but at the age of nine he ventured on to the local ski jumping hill for the first time, triggering a passion that burns inside him to this day.
High flyerSince making his world championship debut in Lahti, Finland, in 1989 and appearing in his first FIS World Cup event in Thunder Bay, Canada, in December the same year, Kasai has competed at the Worlds 11 times, as well as 427 World Cup competitions and six Olympic Games, recording 15 individual wins and 44 podium finishes. Crowned ski-flying world champion on Harrachow’s K-180 hill in March 1992, he achieved another career high in the men’s large hill team competition at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer. In a thrilling event played out before an enthralled crowd of tens of thousands on the Olympic hill, Kasai teamed up with Jinya Nishikata, Takanobu Okabe and Masahiko Harada to help Japan win silver behind Germany, with the result in the balance until the very last jump.
Forced to adaptUp to 1994, Kasai employed a dangerous “V” style jumping technique, leaning so far forward that his skis were actually behind his ears, which led to him being nicknamed “Dumbo”. Rule changes were then introduced, with the bindings being moved towards the middle of the ski, reducing the front section of the ski to 57 percent of its total length. It took the Japanese jumper several seasons to adapt to this change and re-establish himself as a major contender.
Magnificent seven in SochiOn 24 August 2013, some 24 years on from his international debut, Kasai won the FIS Ski Jumping Grand Prix on Hakuba’s Olympic HS-131 hill, in his native Japan. Reacting to the win, he said: “It’s been two years since my last victory. I was in my thirties then, and now I’m in my forties, which makes me even happier and shows that I can still compete with the best in the world. It gives me a lot of confidence.” While preparing for his seventh Olympic Games in Sochi, the evergreen Japanese was asked why he continues to compete. The answer was brief but revealing: “Because I haven’t won a gold medal yet.”