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Sapporo Olympic champion Yukio Kasaya pays tribute to Ryoyu Kobayashi

Kyodo

Ryoyu Kobayashi’s stunning victory at the prestigious Four Hills Tournament brought a thrill not only to the 22-year-old himself, but to 75-year-old Yukio Kasaya, Japan’s first Olympic ski jump champion.

In the winter of 1971-72, Kasaya just missed becoming Japan’s first Four Hills champ despite winning the first three events. With the Olympics looming, Kasaya had bigger fish to fry. He returned home ahead of his eventual Olympic triumph in Sapporo, where he led Japan’s individual normal hill podium sweep.

Twenty-six years later, Kazuyoshi Funaki again won the first three competitions at the Four Hills. He missed a grand slam but hung on to become Japan’s first overall champion. Like Kasaya, he followed his Four Hill heroics with Olympic gold in his home country — in both the individual and team events on the large hill in Nagano 1998.

Watching Kobayashi’s victory in the tournament finale at Bischofshofen, Austria, boosted Kasaya’s spirits.

“He (Kobayashi) is like a second coming of Kazuyoshi Funaki,” Kasaya said Tuesday. “The wind in the final competition was difficult. I was wondering how it would go. It was so exciting. I was moved. It’s been a long time since it’s been so enjoyable.”

Kasaya’s failure to win in 1972 sticks with him to this day.

“It may be a rude thing to say, but I simply had to take part in the domestic qualifying events,” Kasaya said.

In 1998, Funaki had a shot at becoming the first to win the Four Hills grand slam, but mistakes cost him in the Bischofshofen competition.

“This is just amazing,” said Funaki, who was also 22 when he won his overall title. “You have all these events within a short span of time, so you can’t make adjustments.”

“I think he’s tougher mentally than I was. It isn’t luck,” Funaki added.

In addition to the world championships in February, a World Cup championship is a possibility. Kobayashi leads the standings in the 29-event season with 956 points, 427 ahead of Poland’s Piotr Zyla after winning eight of the season’s first 12 competitions.

“I absolutely hope he wins it,” Funaki said. “It’s such a joy.”