Noriaki Kasai, the grand old man of ski jumping
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 (Sochi 2014 will be his seventh) than any other ski jumper in history.
On 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.”
No stopping Noriaki
Since 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.
Kasai’s best individual results at the Games to date were fifth in the normal hill event at Albertville 1992 and eighth in the large hill at Vancouver 2010, where he jumped furthest in qualifying. The Japanese flyer will be among the oldest competitors at Sochi, if not the oldest, and will become one of the very few athletes to have competed at seven Winter Olympic Games.
“I love ski jumping and I’m not ready to stop doing it yet,” he vows, expressing a love that is reciprocated by his army of fans around the world, which will surely grow in number come February 2014.