Sara Takanashi soars for the stars
The first athlete to win a gold medal at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Innsbruck 2012, Japanese ski jumper Sara Takanashi, who finished fourth at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, will likely be regarded as one of the favourites at Pyeongchang 2018.
At the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2012, a 15-year-old Sara Takanashi (JAP) won the first title on the programme, namely ladies’ ski jumping. Like half-pipe skiing and snowboard slopestyle, the discipline made its Olympic debut in Innsbruck, prior to being added to the senior card at the XXII Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 two years later.
“I’m so happy,” said the victorious teenager after the event. “I’m delighted to pick up my first gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games. It’s an honour to be here and to win this competition.”
In the years that followed that pivotal triumph, she would go on to become world number one, secure three consecutive World Junior Championship crowns, and emerge victorious from the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 FIS World Cup seasons, racking up a total of 32 podium berths and 19 wins at that level.
In Sochi, however, despite going into the women's normal hill ski jumping final as the favourite for the gold medal, Takanashi could only finish fourth behind Germany’s Carina Vogt (gold, 247.40 points), Austria’s Daniela Iraschko-Stolz (silver, 246.20 points) and France’s Coline Mattel (bronze, 245.20 points).
“I came here to do my very best,” she said at the time. “I’m terribly disappointed that I didn’t perform as I would have liked in either jump. What I realised is that I’m not mentally strong enough. But the fighter inside me will battle till the end, and I plan to come back to the Games stronger than ever and make my whole country proud.”
“I don’t want to do anything else other than ski jumping. My career has been developing in tandem with the whole ski jumping movement in Japan. I’m grateful to all the people who’ve helped me,” she added.
Subsequently, the Kamikawa-born skier continued to shine on the international ski jumping scene, finishing second in the overall 2014-2015 World Cup standings and making a blistering start to the following campaign. As well as going on an unbeaten run in the FIS Grand Prix in August and September, she recorded a resounding series of successes at the beginning of the 2015-2016 World Cup season, including an impressive night-time victory on 4 December in Lillehammer, the stage of the upcoming 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games.
“You can never tell who’s going to win,” said Takanashi. “The level of women’s ski jumping is constantly improving. But first and foremost, I need to focus on my own performances and do the best I can.” At just 19, the Japanese athlete, currently sitting atop the 2016 World Cup standings and boasting 32 wins and 51 top-three finishes in total, is now well on course to land a third large crystal globe, demonstrating perfect timing vis-à-vis her ultimate goal of clinching gold at Pyeongchang 2018.