The Japanese have always loved ski jumping, and their athletes have always enjoyed enthusiastic support. In Nagano, a new generation of Japanese jumpers was beginning to come through ready to take on the world, and leading the way was Kazuyoshi Funaki.
When the Winter Games had last been hosted in Japan in 1972, jumpers from the home nation had swept the board on the normal hill in Sapporo. Just over quarter of a century later in Nagano a repeat of that incredible result seemed possible at the halfway stage. Masahiko Harada held the lead and the other three Japanese jumpers were also in contention for a medal. In the end it was only Funaki who managed to finish on the podium. Harada ended up just fifth after a disappointing final jump. while Finland's Jani Soininen produced a fine final leap to take gold.
Funaki finished second and his silver medal was greeted with great excitement by the Japanese supporters, who now looked forward to to the large hill event in the hope that he might go one better.
The Japanese also had high hopes for Harada, who was the reigning world champion.
But after the first round of jumps, the lead was held by Austria's Andreas Widhölzl, who had taken the bronze on the normal hill. Harada was down in sixth but then produced an absolutely huge second round jump to thrill the watching crowd. It was so long that it had to be measured by hand, because he had gone beyond the end of the electronic measuring equipment!Getty
It was finally confirmed at 136m, a huge – and hugely impressive – leap, but it was still not destined to be the winning jump. Instead that honour fell to Funaki. He flew 132.5m, but did so with absolute elegance. Not only had he delivered a huge leap, but he also earned perfect style points from all the judges, a feat that had never been achieved before at the Winter Games. Soininen could not match that, even though his jump was good enough to pass Harada and move him into silver medal position. That left the leader, Widhölzl, as the only man standing between Japan and a gold medal. He soared into the air, but landed rather short and dropped back into fourth place. Funaki's victory was now assured, and was greeted with massive cheers.
Japan later added the team title, meaning that Funaki left Nagano with two golds and a silver to his name.Getty