PLANICA, SLOVENIA – Ski jumper Noriaki Kasai settled for sixth but was all smiles after competing in a record 500th World Cup event on Thursday.
The 43-year-old Kasai, provided with a special No. 500 saddlecloth decorated with a spreading golden eagle design, landed two 225-meter jumps for 397.9 points at the K-200, 225-meter hill.
Local favorite Peter Prevc won the event with 426.5 points for his 14th victory of the season, a new single-season record.
Kasai, who made his World Cup debut as a 16-year-old in 1988, received rapturous cheers from the crowd of some 20,000 with countless Japanese flags waved and simply couldn’t hide his excitement.
“I’ve continued jumping but never expected things to turn out like this. It’s really amazing,” Kasai said. “I didn’t expect the atmosphere to be as heated as this. I’ve grinned too much, my cheeks hurt.
“It was great that (saddlecloth) was there ready, in my color of yellow and black. There was even that surprise of my daughter getting hers after the first jump.”
Kasai won his first event in 1992 but his career wasn’t all plain sailing, most notably for his omission from Japan’s gold-medal winning team at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano.