PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Noriaki Kasai is going for No. 9.
Kasai, the only eight-time Winter Olympian in history after competing at the Pyeongchang Games at the age of 45, said Monday he has no plans to hang up his skis any time soon and will make a run at the next one in Beijing in 2022.
“I’m not going to try, I will definitely be there,” Kasai said after the ski jumping team event, where Japan finished sixth and Norway won its second gold medal in the sport at these games.
“I watched the others win medals and it fired me up. I can still keep going. I am by no means finished.”
After winning a silver in the large hill and bronze in the team in Sochi four years ago, Kasai was hailed by fans and peers in Japan and overseas. But the newfound fame came at a costly price, taking time away from his workout regimen.
Kasai and the Japanese men’s team came up empty-handed in Pyeongchang, and that is something he wants to avoid at all costs in Beijing.
“I couldn’t train properly the last four years,” Kasai said. “I want to work on my jumps the next four years and perfect them. If I can bring myself to peak form then I can medal as an individual, help the team medal.
“I’m thrilled to have competed for the eighth time, but equally annoyed that I couldn’t win a medal. I only showed half of what I can do here. The other half, I’ll show in four years’ time.”
Pyeongchang was supposed to further cement Kasai’s legacy, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
Kasai, Japan’s flagbearer at these games, finished 21st in the normal hill, but at the time wasn’t upset by the result. In fact, he flashed smile after smile after the event and spoke confidently of his chances in the large hill.
“I feel really good, so if everything comes together, I can definitely jump a lot further,” Kasai had said.
“For the mistakes I’m making, I’m gaining good distance so I can’t wait for the large hill. The large hill is my event and if I can be more consistent with my takeoffs, I should be much better.”
At training last Thursday, Kasai walked the walk by jumping 138.0 meters, but the following day during large hill qualifying, things started to slip. He leaped to just 122.5, good for only 22nd place in a field of 56, far and away from medal territory.
Though the veteran described his qualifying performance as “garbage,” he still had his sense of humor and managed the occasional smile before trotting off back to the athletes’ village.
By Saturday, Kasai had nothing to smile about and little to say.
The veteran jumped to a mere 121.0 in the first round for 33rd place and failed to make the final. He stormed past the media without taking questions, uttering just one word: “Damn.”
On Monday, Kasai, with jumps of 124 and 125, failed to help Japan contend, but he seemed at peace and the smile was back on his face.
While he will head home with no medals slung around his neck, Kasai said he achieved something bigger in Pyeongchang and found a source of motivation for Beijing.
“The most important goal I had here was to have my family watch me at the Olympics. Now that I’ve done that, next time, I want to win a medal in front of my family,” he said.
“I did everything I could at these Olympics. There was a lot of pressure on me throughout this season. I had a lot to think about, but I managed to get here in the end.
“I’m glad I made it to my eighth Olympics because I was under the most pressure when I was trying to make the team. I turned things around in the second half of the season, but I wasn’t sure I’d be here.”