Sara Takanashi’s Struggle The Real Reason Behind the Ski Jumping Queen’s Losing Streak | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Sara Takanashi’s Struggle The Real Reason Behind the Ski Jumping Queen’s Losing Streak

Why has the absolute queen of ski jumping with 63 victories, the most in her career, stopped reaching the podium? Is it due to injury or mental illness? - The current state of the prodigy jumper who was hated by the goddess of the Olympics.

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Can the queen overcome the biggest crisis of her athletic career? Sara Takanashi, 27, who boasts an overwhelming record of 63 World Cup ski jumping titles, the most of any skier in history, and four overall titles in a year, has been flying low.

In the 9th World Cup event held in Sapporo on January 13, she achieved her best result of the season by finishing in 4th place. However, her expression remained somewhat somber.

After the conclusion of the 9th World Cup event on January 13, Takanashi reflected, “I want to reconsider the approach once again.” The queen is quietly aiming for a comeback.

“Last season, I only managed to secure two third-place finishes, resulting in my first winless season. This season, I am also far from the podium. Some around me say, ‘A comeback seems difficult,'” said a representative from the All Japan Ski Federation.

Why can’t the queen soar anymore? International ski journalist Takafumi Iwase, who has covered Takanashi for many years, explains.

“The major cause is injuries to both knees. In February of last year during practice, the impact upon landing made it impossible for my knees to bear weight, leading to a fall. At the hospital, it was diagnosed as a tibial bone contusion. In ski jumping, knees are crucial for takeoff and landing.

During the offseason, I aimed to strengthen the lower body muscles and perform jumps that wouldn’t strain the knees. However, knee injuries are slow to heal. Even with slight improvements, participating in competitions puts a strain on them, causing recovery delays. That’s why she seems to be intentionally avoiding the telemark landing technique for now.”

Telemark is a technique in ski jumping where, upon landing, both legs are spread apart, one knee is deeply bent, and both arms are extended to maintain a stable posture. Adding telemark improves scores, while not doing it lowers scores. However, her knees are in such a poor condition that she can’t incorporate the telemark landing technique.

“If she forces it, there’s a possibility of tearing ligaments upon landing, leading to the end of her athletic career,” said the aforementioned representative from the Ski Federation.

 Would Takanashi end up like this? Iwase shakes his head.

“This season doesn’t have any major competitions. Instead of focusing on statements like ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to win’ or ‘I’ll definitely stand on the podium,’ her emphasis is on continuing the sport while also healing her knees to maintain her competitive edge. Her goal is the Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo Olympics in 2026.

The ski jumping venue is ‘Val di Fiemme,’ where she won a gold medal at the 2013 World Championships. If she can restore her knees to about 80% of their best condition by 2026 and combine that with her experience, she can still return as one of the world’s top athletes.”

The fact that she has a coach from the strong skiing nation, Finland, starting this season is also considered a positive factor.

“The fact that they revived the legend Noriaki Kasai (51) and are coaching the Olympic gold medalist Ryoyu Kobayashi (27) for the Beijing Olympics is also under a Finn. This year is a period of lying in wait to elevate her condition while incorporating the new coach’s know-how into her body. In the future, she will surely experience her second peak.” (same source)

What Takanashi is aiming for is one thing: the grand jump under the Italian winter sky.

She showcased her best jump of the season in her hometown of Hokkaido. The queen is steadily approaching the podium that she has been distant from for a while

From “FRIDAY” February 2 and 9, 2024

  • PHOTO Takafumi Iwase

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