• Kyodo

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The Ski Association of Japan on Tuesday vowed to add to the four skiing and snowboarding medals won at the 2018 Winter Games during the upcoming Beijing Olympics.

Heading the list of athletes with high hopes is Ryoyu Kobayashi, who became the first non-European to win the men’s ski jumping World Cup title in the 2018-19 season and is looking to improve on his seventh place finish in his Games debut in Pyeongchang.

While securing a win and a runner-up finish in two Ski Jumping Grand Prix events over the summer, Kobayashi has also won all the domestic competitions so far this term as he heads into the Nov. 20 World Cup opener in good form.

“I’m feeling well ahead of the winter and looking forward to Beijing,” the 24-year-old told a Ski Association of Japan news conference.

Japanese athletes are set to skip test events for Beijing scheduled for December, having been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Kobayashi said he is concerned about not being able to get a feel for the temperature and wind conditions, but added it is not something he is dwelling on.

Akito Watabe has won two silver medals in his four Winter Games appearances in men’s Nordic combined and has his sights set on going one better in China.

“Preferably I want to get a medal that shines even brighter. I’m heading in determined to get a gold,” said the 33-year-old after returning to Japan late last month following a monthlong training camp in Europe.

“From my experience, test events aren’t something to rely on. I’m excited to go in cold,” he said.

Medal predictions released last week by Nielsen’s Gracenote had Japan winning three golds and they were all in either skiing or snowboarding. Sara Takanashi was picked to win in women’s ski jumping and she was joined by two snowboarders: Miyabi Onitsuka in women’s big air and Yuto Totsuka in the men’s halfpipe.

The SAJ handed Totsuka its top award for the 2020-21 season after the 20-year-old swept all major titles, including the world championships in March.

“I’ll roll my sleeves up in order to win all the tournaments,” Totsuka, who finished 11th in 2018 in his Games debut following a heavy fall in the final, said of the new season. He attended the award ceremony online.

“I do feel the pressure (being the world champion). But I also have great confidence and putting in my usual performance would lead me to gold.”

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