Japan’s ageless flyer
Born under an Olympic star
Noriaki Kasai was born in 1972 on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, the same year that it staged the Winter Games. Indeed, Sapporo, the host city, was located just a few dozen kilometres from the Kasai family home. Noriaki demonstrated a talent for sport from a young age, first trying his hand at track and field and excelling in the 10,000m. Then, at the age of nine, he ventured onto the local ski jump for the first time. He was instantly hooked.
Kasai competed at his first world championships in Lahti (FIN) in February 1989, and made his debut on the FIS World Cup circuit at Thunder Bay (CAN) in December the same year. By the end of the 2013-2014 season, he had featured at 11 world championships, 450 World Cup events and seven Olympic Winter Games, recording 16 victories and 66 podiums in all competitions.
In March 1992, he enjoyed his finest hour as he was crowned world champion on the K180 at Harrachow (CZE). Prior to Sochi 2014, his greatest Olympic moment had come at Lillehammer in 1994, where, together with Jinya Nishikata, Takanobu Okabe and Masahiko Harada, he helped Japan clinch silver in the K120 team event, following a dazzling duel with Germany that went down to the wire.
Master of reinvention
Up until 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 Sochi
Kasai arrived in Sochi buoyed by his World Cup victory on the HS200 hill at Tauplitz-Bad Mitterndofr (AUT) a month earlier, when at the age of 41 and seven months he had made history as the oldest ever winner of an FIS ski jumping event. In Sochi though, as he took to the large hill for the seventh Olympic Games in a row, he found himself up against the in-form Kamil Stoch of Poland. An epic contest ensued in which Kasai produced two huge jumps of 139m and 133.5m, but they were still not enough to edge him ahead of the Pole who won by 1.3 points, and the Japanese jumper had to settle once again for Olympic silver, 20 years after his first. He was not finished yet though. The following week he joined up with Daiki Ito, Reruhi Shimizu and Taku Takeuchi to help Japan claim bronze in the team event, behind Austria and Germany. That second podium meant that Sochi 2014 was his most successful Winter Games to date.
Quest for gold
When asked about what drives him to carry on competing, Kasai replied: “Because I haven’t won [Olympic] gold yet.” Having come painfully close to doing so in Sochi, he is now determined to have yet another tilt at an Olympic title in 2018 in PyeongChang, by which point he will be 45!