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Ski jumping: Noriaki Kasai, the phenomenon – World Cup point with 51

When Noriaki Kasai was crowned ski flying world champion in the winter of 1992, Andreas Wellinger wasn’t even born yet. There is a 23-year age difference between Japan’s ski jumping phenomenon and the German Olympic champion, which is normally an entire athlete’s life. But Kasai, nicknamed Kamikaze, breaks all boundaries and penetrates new dimensions. He did that many years ago and again and again. But now, since hardly anyone expected it anymore, he manages to do it again.

Due to his amazing performances in the second and third class ski jumping leagues as well as nationally, the Japanese association recently nominated him for the extended World Cup team at home jumping in Sapporo. This Friday he got his big chance and actually qualified for the 570th World Cup appearance of his long career. A ski jumper has never been older. And then this: Kasai made it into the second round on Saturday. To the cheers of the spectators, he came 30th – and Wellinger third behind Ryoyu Kobayashi and Stefan Kraft.

Another milestone for the tireless Japanese who achieves the seemingly impossible. And who never let setbacks get him down over the years, who always believed in himself, even if he was almost the only one. And his story always proved him right. Also this time.

Kasai jumped against Nykänen and Weißflog

It seemed impossible that he would make it into the World Cup again after he was over 50. Last year, Kasai also had the chance to qualify for the best competition in Sapporo, but failed. However, the starting situation was different this time, and that alone is impressive: he recently impressed with good results in the second-class Continental Cup, including ninth place, as well as in national competitions.

Victory in the 1999 tournament jumping in Innsbruck: Kasai celebrates on Bergisel

Quelle: picture-alliance/dpa/hrad

But that also meant that the attention was higher this time. And even an experienced athlete like Kasai is not immune to nervousness. “I think everyone is waiting for me. And I want to live up to their expectations,” said the now father of two. “It’s going to be such pressure for me, like it’s about winning. But I want to withstand the pressure.” And that’s exactly what he achieved. The competition was then the freestyle. Kasai competed in his last World Cup competition to date at the age of 47, also in Sapporo – that was already an age record.

November 29, 1997: Dieter Thoma (M.) wins in Lillehammer ahead of the Finn Jani Soininen (l.) and Noriaki Kasai

Source: picture-alliance/dpa/epa AFP

Sapporo is also a special place for Kasai: He made his World Cup debut there on December 17, 1988 as a 16-year-old. And in parallel style. Kasai jumped against the ski jumping legends Matti Nykänen and Jens Weißflog, survived a number of rule and style changes and became a celebrated athlete on the jumps as he got older. In fact, he was never ridiculed, not by the competition, not by the fans. But celebrated. However, Kasai himself had to get used to the fact that he became a crowd favorite. “When this started, I thought they were making fun of me because of my age,” he once told WELT. “But then I felt that they were really cheering me on.”

The ski jumping world bowed

He celebrated 17 World Cup victories in his career, the last one on November 29, 2014 in Kuusamo, with 42, in the second spring of his career. He had previously had to cope with a lot in terms of sport, especially his personal drama in Nagano in 1998 that haunted him for a long time. At that time, Kasai was just a spectator at the greatest triumph in Japanese ski jumping: “The other four won gold at home,” he said with a sigh during the WELT interview. It was eating at him.

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After 2004, he didn’t achieve much success for many years, but he didn’t want to give up. He continued to work tirelessly until he jumped so well again in the 2013/2014 season that the competition rubbed their eyes in amazement and fascination at the same time. Kasai had to be 41 years old to win his first individual Olympic medal in Sochi in 2014. It almost became gold. 1.3 points, a tiny fraction, were missing from the triumph. Winner Kamil Stoch took off his helmet in the run-out of the Olympic ski jump and bowed deeply to the exceptional athlete Noriaki Kasai. All other jumpers did the same. “A great person, a great athlete,” said Stoch.

Silver coup: Noriaki Kasai will be celebrated at the 2014 Games. Kamil Stoch takes a step back and focuses on Kasai

Quelle: picture alliance/Sven Simon/FrankHoermann/SVEN SIMON

And it wasn’t just that season. He also finished in the top ten of the World Cup the following two winters. The last time the Japanese was on the podium was in 2017 as a 44-year-old. How is that possible?

Encourage you to dream

What does Kasai have that others don’t? Apart from this tireless will that sustains him? And his mental strength? National coach Werner Schuster once said he had an “incredible talent for movement” and “he is highly gifted when it comes to sports motor skills”. This is where his nickname comes from. Because of the extreme upper body position when jumping, it is called “Kamikaze” in Japan.

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“He’s like a chameleon,” Weissflog once said of Kasai’s ability to adapt to all demands. “An exceptional athlete, I admire him.”

And what does Kasai himself say? In a WELT interview shortly before the New Year’s Eve dinner in 2015 and thus during the Four Hills Tournament (no other athlete would have sat down relaxed for a conversation at that point), he said: “When I jump, I can show what is possible, I can encourage people to believe in their dreams. I can live a little bit of your own dream.”

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