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Ski jumper Takanashi aims to catch wind for Sochi

AFP-JIJI

Women’s World Cup ski jumping champion Sara Takanashi vowed Monday to catch a “good wave” as she set out on the new season to chase a rare winter Olympic gold medal for Japan at the Sochi Games.

“I’ve not jumped over the snow yet so I can hardly wait,” Takanashi said as she left Tokyo for a training camp in Austria before the season’s first World Cup event in the Norwegian town of Lillehammer on Dec. 6.

“It will be the season-opening event so I will work hard to climb up the podium there and ride a good wave,” the 17-year-old high school girl told reporters at Narita airport. “It will boost my confidence if I finish high.”

Takanashi won the Grand Prix summer jumping title for the second straight year in September by taking four out of six events contested on porcelain tracks and plastic grass.

Her archrival, 19-year-old American Sarah Hendrickson, who beat her into second spot at the world championships in February, is out with a cruciate ligament injury she suffered in training on Aug. 21.

In the absence of Hendrickson, who hopes to return to competition in mid-January and make the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, Takanashi may have a better chance of retaining the overall World Cup title.

The World Cup calendar will run through March 22 with 20 events straddling the Sochi contest on Feb. 11 where women’s ski jumping makes its Olympic debut.

The Japanese teen became the youngest individual winner of the overall World Cup winner last season at age 16. She won eight of 16 events, finishing on the podium 13 times.

Takanashi has been often deducted points for failing to make “telemark” landings — by putting one foot in front of the other — an important style element in the scoring system based on distance and style.

“First of all, I have to mind my points for style,” she said.

But she is still widely considered to be Japan’s best gold medal hope in Sochi.

In women’s figure skating, two-time former world champion Mao Asada still has a gap in terms of personal-best scores with South Korea’s reigning world champion Kim Yu-na, who beat her into second spot at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

It is seen as a big ask for Japanese skaters to overtake Canada’s three-time world champion Patrick Chan in the men’s event.

Japan rallied to its best Winter Olympic haul of five gold medals at home in the 1998 Nagano Games. It has since won just one gold — through Shizuka Arakawa in the women’s figure skating at the 2006 Turin Games.