• AFP-Jiji


Sara Takanashi is one of the most decorated ski jumpers of all time, but Olympic gold has eluded her and she admits to being “swallowed up” at past Winter Games.

Now the 25-year-old Japanese star hopes the third time will be the charm at Beijing in February, where she can finally lay her Olympic demons to rest.

“I already have an Olympic medal, but my aim is to win gold,” Takanashi said, adding that she has rebuilt her jumping technique from scratch since settling for bronze at the 2018 Games.

“My main target is to show people how much I’ve developed. If I can do that, I think the results will follow.”

Takanashi has 60 World Cup victories and 109 individual podium finishes to her name — both world records. She is also a four-time world champion.

But agonizingly, she has failed to live up to top billing on the Olympic stage and admits she feels “frustrated” about it.

Takanashi looked nailed-on for the title when women’s ski jump made its Olympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games, but instead finished fourth in a shock upset.

She was third in Pyeongchang four years later despite holding the all-time women’s record for World Cup wins.

She says she was “completely swallowed up by the Olympic atmosphere” in Sochi and was not at her best in Pyeongchang. She felt more “relieved” than happy to win a medal.

“My jumping style had something to do with it, but I don’t think I was completely immersed in it,” she said, reflecting on 2018.

“In Pyeongchang I gave everything I had and that was the result, but I don’t think I was able to concentrate fully on my jumps.”

Sara Takanashi competes during the FIS Nordic Ski World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany, on Feb. 25. | REUTERS
Sara Takanashi competes during the FIS Nordic Ski World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany, on Feb. 25. | REUTERS

Battling Takanashi for gold in Beijing are likely to be reigning world champion Nika Kriznar of Slovenia and Austria’s Marita Kramer.

Takanashi says one feature of women’s ski jumping is that “anyone can win,” but she is concentrating more on herself than her rivals.

“Winning depends on how much confidence you have in the things you’ve done up to that point,” she said.

“In my case, I’ve changed my jumping style over the past four years. I want to pick up more confidence from now on through my training and the World Cup events.”

Takanashi may have to do without an experienced teammate in Beijing.

Noriaki Kasai, who became the first athlete to appear at eight Winter Olympics at the Pyeongchang Games, looks unlikely to make Japan’s team at the age of 49.

Undaunted by age, however, Kasai has said he wants to compete at the 2030 Games should his hometown Sapporo win its bid to host them.

Takanashi calls Kasai a “legendary figure” and does not doubt he is serious about carrying on.

“I don’t know whether the Olympics will be held in Sapporo or not, but Kasai will take it to the limit of his abilities,” she said.

“His physical potential and jumping technique are excellent. So many ski jumpers look up to him.”

Takanashi is now preparing to begin her final preparations for the Feb. 4-20 Olympics, having won three domestic competitions in Japan in recent weeks.

“I want to express my gratitude to everyone who’s supported me up to this point, and the easiest way to do that is get results,” she said.

“But I also think of it as a reward to myself for putting in the work to get here.”

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