Now that 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi had ended. Here’s another story from Japan at Sochi Olympic Games; not a heartbreaking story like that of Mao Asada but a very happy, and fascinating, one.
Japan’s first gold medal in the Winter Olympic Games was back in 1972 at Sapporo Olympics when Yukio Kasaya captured the 70m Ski Jump. In that particular incidence, Japan swept all the medals in that event. Ever since, Ski Jump had been one of Japan’s favorite events. Japan has been always up there, either for the team event or individual event. Young Noriaki Kasai of Japan was a 19-year-old protege and competed in his first Olympic Games in 1992 at Albertville. Kasai lacked experience as well as skill necessary to earn a medal; he finished 31st in the Normal Hill and 26th in the Large Hill and the Japanese team just missed the medal and finished 4th. Later that season, Kasai finished 3rd at World Cup as well as wining the gold medal at Ski Flying World Championships in Czech. He was just 19 years and 9 months, the youngest World Championships winner at that point. That was when Kasai swore he would win the Olympic gold medal someday…
In 1994, officials changed the Olympic program and the summer and the winter Olympic Games would no longer be held in the same year. This schedule change allowed Kasai the opportunity to challenge the Olympic gold medal in Lillehammer only 2 years after the previous Olympics. Kasai finished 5th in the Normal Hill and won the silver medal as a member of Japan Team that also included another legendary Japanese ski jumper, Masahiko Harada. “The wrong color,” Kasai commented. In 1998, in his Japanese homeland of Nagano, Team Japan won the gold medal in the Team competition. However, Kasai had an ankle injury and was not selected as a member of Japanese Team (though he finished 7th in the Normal Hill event). Once again, he missed the Olympic gold medal. Over the next 3 Olympics (Salt Lake City, Turin and Vancouver) Kasai took part in either all 3 events or 2 individual events but he was nowhere near winning any medal.
This past week, Kasai won the bronze medal in the Team event. It has been a 20-year journey for him since he won his first Olympic medal, the silver, in Albertville. Now he is 41 years old, he was the oldest individual to have ever won an Olympic medal in the ski jump. But not only that, 2 days before the team event, for the first time, Kasai won the individual medal, the silver, in the Large Hill event at Sochi. The previous record for the “oldest” Olympic medalist in the ski jump was a Norwegian, Birger Ruut, at the age of 36 back in 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz. Some people may have seen his impressive “jump” at the award ceremony rather than the actual ski jump on the hill! :o) His consecutive Olympic participation is also the record–seven times. Afterwards, he had commented; “It’s still not the color I wanted. I intend to challenge for the gold medal in the next Olympics!” All the best to this already-legendary ski jumper, known among the competitors as “Kamikaze Kasai”.
Last time the Olympic flame was in Russia, there was the unfortunate boycott. Hopefully we have learnt to become smarter. As long as we have an athlete like Kasai, the Olympic ideology should prevail.