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Ryoyu Kobayashi becomes first Japanese to complete Four Hills grand slam

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Ryoyu Kobayashi made history on Sunday as he completed a grand slam at the prestigious Four Hills tournament to become the first Japanese in two decades to win the overall title at the ski jumping competition.

Kobayashi is the first Japanese to achieve the Four Hills grand slam and followed in the footsteps of Sven Hannawald of Germany in 2001-2002 and Poland’s Kamil Stoch in 2017-2018 as the only men to achieve a clean sweep of all four events in the prestigious German-Austrian ski jumping week.

“I’m tremendously happy,” the 22-year-old Kobayashi said, referring to having become only the third man to seal the Four Hills grand slam in its long history.

With the victory, his eighth on this season’s World Cup circuit, Kobayashi also became the first Japanese overall champion at the Four Hills since Kazuyoshi Funaki achieved the feat in 1997-1998.

Kobayashi, who came into Sunday’s Bischofshofen event after winning at Oberstdorf, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Innsbruck, landed jumps of 135 and 137.5 meters to top the 50-man field with 282.1 points.

Dawid Kubacki of Poland took second with jumps of 138 and 130 meters for 268.3 points, while Austria’s Stefan Kraft was third with 267.5 points after jumps of 134 and 131.5 meters.

Members of the Japanese team, including veteran eight-time Winter Olympian Noriaki Kasai, hoisted the champion on their shoulders and heaped praise on their victorious compatriot.

“This is even more amazing,” said Kasai, who also oversees athletes at the sponsor he and Kobayashi share. “It’s a great achievement that a Japanese athlete has never before accomplished. It’s really amazing.”

Kobayashi extended his winning streak on this season’s World Cup circuit to five. He has landed on the podium in 10 of 11 events this season.

Until this year, Kobayashi had cut a low profile on the ski jumping circuit, where he was better known for his hobby as a DJ and passion for powerful cars rather than his World Cup performances.

He’s been transformed this season under Finnish coach Janne Vaatainen, having won eight of the 11 World Cup rounds in a staggering turnaround for a jumper who had previously been winless.

“When Ryoyu realized that he had to do more than just drive his Porsche, he became good,” Vaatainen said.

“I’ve been pushing hard for him to train more, but so far he didn’t like it, he’s enjoying life, whatever he does, he still has that naughty little smile on his face.”

Vaatainen’s advice hasn’t fallen completely on deaf ears.

On New Year’s Eve, the whole Japanese team was in bed at 10 p.m., and at midnight the sport’s newest star was sound asleep.

The next day, January 1, he swept to victory in the second round of the Four Hills at Garmisch watched by a German TV audience of 6.65 million.

Germany team coach Werner Schuster said Kobayashi always had the ability to make a sudden impact in a sport dominated for so long by Europeans.

“You knew that one day or another he’d realize his potential,” he said.

Germany’s Markus Eisenbichler, who finished the Four Hills in second place overall, also lauded the Japanese star’s performance.

“He’s just extremely good, you have to admit it and without any jealousy,” Eisenbichler said.

Kobayashi was only fourth after the first round on Sunday before he seized control on the second jump.

“After my second jump I was just waiting, because I had given my all already. I’m very happy about my win, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

Kobayashi finished the Four Hills with 1098 points, followed by Eisenbichler (1035.9 pts) and Leyhe (1014.1 pts).

In the overall World Cup title race, Kobayashi has 956 points and is well clear of Poland’s Piotr Zyla, who has 529. Stoch is third with 504.