YAMAGATA – Sara Takanashi will look to turn back the clock and recapture her form at Zao last season to snap out of a funk in this weekend’s World Cup ski jumping.
Last week in Sapporo, the 16-year-old Sochi Olympic hopeful missed the podium in back-to-back competitions for the first time this season, including a season-worst 12th place on Saturday in her hometown.
Friday’s official training was canceled due to incessant heavy snowfall at the Yamagata Prefecture slope, where Takanashi rose to national fame a year ago by becoming the first Japanese to win a World Cup event as well as the youngest winner in history.
Takanashi will aim to hop back on the winning track Saturday with what would be her fifth victory of the campaign.
“I managed to win here last year with one jump,” said Takanashi, who last won on Jan. 13 in Hinterzarten, Germany. “It was a really good jump. I think luck had a lot to do with it, though.”
“It’s a little disappointing we couldn’t jump today because of the weather. But it’s my third time jumping at Zao and I have a pretty good feel for the hill now.”
“The winds here tend to change. I just want to focus on my fundamentals.”
At Sapporo, the baby-faced jumper took flight with huge expectations before a home crowd, but strong winds kept her down to no more than 86 meters during the weekend, which pales in comparison to her career best jump of 141 meters.
“I was competing at home so obviously I felt comfortable jumping there,” Takanashi said. “But I wasn’t able to gather myself physically and couldn’t win.”
Despite the lackluster showing in Hokkaido, Takanashi still comfortably leads the World Cup standings with 737 points — 140 more than American Sarah Hendrickson, who is second.
Takanashi can put herself in excellent position of the overall title with victory on Japanese soil this weekend, which will only heighten her gold-medal hype at the Winter Games next year.
“We still have six competitions left. I need to go out and perform. I can’t afford to let up just yet,” she said. “I don’t want to disappoint the fans who will come out wanting to see a good show.”
“Sochi is only a year away but I’ve got the World Cup and the world championships before that, and I need to focus on those competitions first.”
Defending World Cup champion Hendrickson can use a big weekend to gain on Takanashi.
“Sara has a quite big lead overall but we have six meets left and anything can happen,” the 18-year-old said. “It’s hard to say right now but I’ll focus on each individual competition as they come.”