YAMAGATA – Sara Takanashi is poised to win the women’s ski jumping World Cup title next weekend in Slovenia after the Japanese teen wonder swept a doubleheader at Zao on Sunday, tying a record for most victories in a season.
The 16-year-old Takanashi picked up her fifth and sixth victories of the campaign, both over Austria’s Jacqueline Seifriedsberger, to take a commanding lead in the World Cup standings with four events left.
Takanashi, who became the first Japanese to win on the World Cup circuit here at the Yamagata Prefecture resort last year, has 937 points, sitting on a 230-point cushion ahead of the defending champion from the United States, Sarah Hendrickson.
Hendrickson came in fourth and third on this morning.
Sunday set the stage for two competitions after strong winds forced the cancellation of Saturday’s event. The weather brightened on Sunday as if to celebrate Takanashi’s feat.
“It’s rare to have two competitions in one day,” said Takanashi, who heads to Ljubno, Slovenia, for the Feb. 16-17 competitions. “I didn’t even have time to eat today.”
“I was a little bummed out yesterday was cancelled because so many people came to watch us. I’m glad the weather was nice today, and that I performed well for the fans.”
Takanashi had a less than memorable homecoming in Sapporo last weekend, finishing a season-worst 12th and fifth to miss the podium back-to-back for the first time this season.
Takanashi had vowed to bounce back in Zao, where she became the youngest winner in World Cup history a year ago — and she did.
The Sochi Olympic gold medal hopeful on Sunday comfortably won both competitions, with totals of 228.0 and 240.4 points. Seifriedsberger had 212 and 229.4 points, respectively, and Germany’s Carina Vogt was third in the first event.
Takanashi was the only one to clear 90 meters on all four jumps, leading after every round.
It included an effort of 102.0 meters on the first attempt of the second competition — just 0.5 meters off the hill record she set last season in topping the podium.
Takanashi said the first jump of 95.5 meters set the tone for a victorious morning that did not feature a trial round.
“There was no practicing today so I had to get into my positioning from the first jump,” she said. “I warmed up a lot and it was tough on me mentally to not have a trial round.”
“I think the first jump really got me going. I like jumping on this hill. I feel comfortable here, and was sure I could turn things around here.”
“We still have four competitions left. I’m starting to feel better and better. I want to ride this wave and just keep improving.”
Hendrickson, who is still working her way back to peak form after having knee surgery last year, was at peace with her results that left her a step behind Takanashi.
“The weather played a huge role in the weekend here in Zao,” Hendrickson said. “Yesterday for me, it was pretty mentally exhausting just being around a ski jump but never getting to actually jump.”
“But it was a really good decision to have two competitions today. They were really fair and I’m satisfied with the results. I’m pretty happy with the outcome.”