FALUN, SWEDEN – Sochi Olympic hero Noriaki Kasai may be satisfied with his results from the Winter Games, but he has one more goal in mind.
Competing in his seventh straight Olympics, the 41-year-old Kasai won large-hill silver and team bronze in Sochi, giving him three career Olympic medals following a team silver in Lillehammer in 1994.
With the pain of numerous Olympic disappointments behind him at last, Kasai has one big goal in mind, an Olympic gold medal.
“I feel I’ve finally realized a satisfactory Olympics in my seventh try,” he said recently. “It was always like I was too enthusiastic and failed or there was too big a gap between me and the best in the world and for some reason it didn’t work. This time I felt like it all came together.”
“On the podium, I was thinking that if only my national flag was in the top position. Although I felt some regret, I am so happy I was also able to have our flag raised there.”
On Wednesday, Kasai finished third in the first World Cup competition since the conclusion of the Sochi Games. He hurt his right knee on his first jump, however, and fell from second to third when he had trouble with his Telemark landing on his second effort. It is a problem that has plagued him throughout his career, and he believes his technique cost him gold in Sochi.
“My technique was not quite good enough,” he said. “I’ve felt the final Telemark was the key, but until now I’ve sometimes had pain in my knees or in my lower back and haven’t been able to practice it that much. I don’t know if I’ll be able to compete four years from now (at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games) in good form, but I don’t want to slack off in my pursuit of a gold medal.”
Kasai decided to sit out Friday’s individual World Cup event in Lahti, Finland, due to an injured right knee.
The event was won by Germany’s Severin Freund, who moved past Kasai into third place in the overall World Cup standings.
“I am prone to trouble with my knees and lower back. It’s accumulated wear and tear from decades of jumping. I need to keep in mind what is appropriate for my age.”
This coming from a man who considers it appropriate to ski down enormous hills and launch himself into the air at the age of 41.
“I’ve competed in close to 450 World Cup events and have just 16 wins,” he said. “For the most part, my experiences have been frustrating ones. That’s been my motivation. Until now, I’ve been taking out my frustration from the Nagano Games, the frustration from not winning a gold medal in Lillehammer, but these last Olympics have relieved me of that. After this, my target for my jumping career is the one thing I want most of all, a gold medal.”
Knowing more than a little about the pain of Olympic failure, Kasai said he would like to impart some of his wisdom to 17-year-old female, ski jumper Sara Takanashi, who failed to medal in Sochi despite being the overwhelming gold-medal favorite.
“What’s essential is how one adjusts,” Kasai said. “The expectations on her were too high this time. When I was young, I also expected to win every competition I entered, and in some big competitions, I would be fatigued and unable to produce.
“I want to teach her some of the different lessons I’ve learned.”