Despite turning 41 last summer, Noriaki Kasai is showing no signs of slowing down and a recent World Cup win suggests the ski jumper nicknamed “Kamikaze” could emerge as a surprise medalist in his seventh Winter Olympics appearance at next month’s Sochi Games.
Kasai made front page news in Austria after becoming the oldest winner on the men’s ski jumping World Cup circuit on Jan. 11 and Japan’s Sochi delegation captain likes to think his current form could lead to a podium finish in Russia.
“I’ve been in the kind of form where I can say, even at my age, that I am going to aim for a medal,” said Kasai, who has four top-three finishes so far this season, his latest being third place in Sapporo on Saturday. “I’ve never had another season as good as this.”
“I was able to win straight after being selected for Japan (for Sochi). Normally the pressure would really be on (in that situation) but I am moving in the right direction,” he told Kyodo News.
“Even if I make a little mistake here or there I can still get on the podium. If everything comes together, I can be the best, like I was on Jan. 11.”
Austrian Gregor Schlierenzauer, who took third in the Jan. 11 event tipped his hat to Kasai, saying, “This is proof that if your technique is superior, even advanced age will not prevent you from winning.”
Kasai, fourth in the World Cup standings, beat the record held by compatriot Takanobu Okabe, who won a World Cup event in March 2009 at 38 years, 4 months. It was Kasai’s first World Cup victory since February 2004 and 16th overall in World Cup individual events.
A fixture on the global circuit since 1989, Kasai has appeared in more World Cup events and Olympic Games than any other ski jumper in history.
He first competed at the 1992 Albertville Olympics. Although he won a team silver in Lillehammer in 1994, he failed to make Japan’s gold medal-winning team on home soil in Nagano in 1998.
When asked why he continues to compete, his answer is brief but telling: “Because I haven’t won a gold medal yet.”
“In 1994 (in Lillehammer) was the closest I got to an (individual) medal with my jumps but I was young and mentally weak. I didn’t have much experience and wasn’t in my element. My form was OK in 1998 (in Nagano) but I had injuries. . . . ”
Even if Kasai, who has won six world championship medals, comes home from Russia empty-handed, the Sochi Games will not be his last, at least if he has any choice in the matter.
“I am going to aim for an eighth. (The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang) is in nearby South Korea and I want to invite my family. I have never invited them once even though I have been to so many Olympics. I want to be married (by the time Pyeongchang comes around) and hopefully show my children.”
In Sochi, Daiki Ito joins Kasai to make his third consecutive Japan Olympic team, while Taku Takeuchi will be competing at his second straight Winter Games. Two men will be making their Olympic debut — 20-year-old Reruhi Shimizu and 30-year-old Yuta Watase.
It remains to be seen whether Thomas Morgenstern will be able to defend his title after the three-time Austrian Olympic ski jump champion suffered a nasty fall the day before Kasai won in Austria.