Exclusive Interview with Legendary Ski Jumper Noriaki Kasai, 51: “I Can Still Do It, You Know?” | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Exclusive Interview with Legendary Ski Jumper Noriaki Kasai, 51: “I Can Still Do It, You Know?”

At the World Cup Sapporo, he broke his own Guinness record of 569 games played.

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Noriaki Kasaï / Born June 1972 in Hokkaido, Japan. He has competed in eight Winter Olympics and 13 World Championships, and holds Guinness World Records for 569 individual World Cup games. His family includes a wife and two children. Height 176 cm, weight 59 kg.

Winning gives me confidence. It’s amazing at my age.

With an innocent smile on his face, ski jumping legend Noriaki Kasai, 51, said, “It’s amazing to win at my age.

After the TVh Cup Ski Jumping event held at Okurayama in Sapporo, Hokkaido, on February 3, he won for the first time in two years, since the Snow Brand Megmilk Cup in January 2010, and became the first skier in his 50s to win the event. He has been selected to represent Japan at the World Cup in Sapporo starting February 17, and is expected to break his own Guinness record of 569 individual World Cup ski jumping events.

He is the undisputed iron man of the sport, but he has had many trials and tribulations on his way to this point in his career. Here is a look back at his tumultuous life, in Kasai’s own words.

“I tried to make my mother comfortable.

Born in Shimokawa-cho, Hokkaido, where skiing is popular, Kasai started jumping when he was in the third grade of elementary school.

When I went to a local ski resort, a friend asked me if I wanted to try jumping. When I went to a local ski resort, a friend asked me to try jumping, and the sensation of floating up in the air was very pleasant. I wanted to try it again.

However, Kasai’s family was so poor that his father was often ill and they could not afford to eat every day. Unable to afford expensive ski equipment, he used hand-me-downs from his senior members of the boys’ team. Unable to raise money for food on expeditions, they sometimes had to borrow rice from neighbors and relatives.

His mother worked hard to make ends meet to support the family. I wanted to go to the Olympics someday and win a gold medal so that I could make her life easier. This wish became the driving force for me to continue jumping.

After graduating from Tokai University Senior High School (now Tokai University Sapporo High School), Kasai joined the prestigious Hokkaido-based Jisaki Kogyo (now Iwata Jisaki Corporation).

At Jisaki Kogyo, I trained like I was puking up blood. The coach was an ogre. At training camps, we had to run 1,500 meters in less than five minutes, squat with 100 kg weights, and soak in practice from morning till night. I was exhausted every day, but it gave me a special feeling as a jumper, as if I had a spring in my step.

Kasai, who has proven herself in domestic and international competitions, continued to compete in the Olympics, first in Albertville in 1992, and then in Lillehammer in 1994. He was determined to win the gold medal.

My sister, who is five years younger than me, was suffering from aplastic anemia, an incurable disease. I thought the best treatment was to make her happy by winning a gold medal. During the interview, she said enthusiastically, ‘I think she will be cured if I grind up her gold medal and give it to her to drink.

Further tragedy struck the Kasai family.’ Before the 1998 Nagano Olympics, their house caught fire and the mother was seriously injured with burns all over her body. Her mother died at the young age of 48 without any medical treatment. Her mother wrote letters to Kasai, who was in a slump at the time, from her hospital bed.

She wrote to Kasai from her sickbed, “Whenever I read her letters again, I still cry. I know you are going through a tough time, but this is life. I know you are going through a tough time, but this is life, and your mother is looking forward to seeing your child crawl up to you.

Even so, the goddess of victory did not smile on Kasai. Due to a previous injury, he was not a member of the team for the Nagano Olympics. Ironically, Japan won the gold medal in the team without Kasai.

I was so disappointed,” he said. On the night Japan won gold, I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop crying. At the time, I was very proud that I was the best. I was very proud of myself, and I had a strong rivalry with Japanese athletes. …… I was so angry when other athletes won that I sometimes said to myself, ‘Drop, drop,'” he said.

Because of his frustration at the Nagano Olympics, Kasai trained harder than ever before.

I trained harder than I had ever trained in my life. I thought that if I pushed myself this hard, I would surely win a gold medal.

However, at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, the results were disappointing. He finished 49th in the individual normal hill and 41st in the individual large hill. He finished not only with a gold medal, but with a podium finish that was not even close.

I was really depressed, thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t go on like this. In hindsight, I was probably too stoic. In response to my distress, the coach at Tsuchiya Home introduced me to a Finnish coach who was younger than me. His training methods were 180 degrees different from my style. Until then, I was thinking about jumping 24/7, and was anxious if I wasn’t training all the time. This way, my head got tired before my body did.

I don’t feel like I’m at my limit.”

For example, in the Flying Hill event, the height difference of the jump platform is 230 meters, about the same as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Failure to do so could result in serious injury or even death. The extreme tension of the competition would leave the competitors mentally drained if they did not refresh themselves properly.

My Finnish coach advised me to forget all about jumping after the competition. In the past, I would have rebelled, saying, ‘My way is ……. But I was devastated by the disastrous loss at the Salt Lake City Olympics and had zero confidence. Once I accepted the advice of my Finnish coach and took a break from jumping, my head became clearer and I felt more relaxed.

The fateful Sochi Olympics (2002) arrived. Kasai, 41 years and 8 months old, won his first medal as an individual (large hill) in his seventh Olympics.

It was silver,” he said. I am half disappointed that I did not win gold, and half happy that I won a medal. Tsuchiya Home, the company I belong to, has a company motto, “Ten Precepts for Success. One of them is, “Adversity is the greatest chance that heaven has given you. These words supported me. At the Sochi Olympics, I imagined myself overcoming adversity and standing on the podium with tears in my eyes many times. Specific goals motivate me.”

The reason she is still active at the forefront of the sport even after turning 50 is because she has a well-rounded mind, body, and spirit.

Some people say that an athlete’s limits are felt around the age of 40,” he says. But I don’t feel anything at this point. I practice about one-third less than I did when I was younger, but I’ve been working on my body thoroughly so that I can fly farther. This January alone, I drove 150 km on snow-covered roads, and I limit my daily energy intake to 1,500 calories. It is said that an increase of one kilogram in body weight causes a loss of two meters in flying distance.

Even though he is a veteran, he does not stick to his own way of doing things. He is also learning from younger players.

Recently, I had a period of poor results, so I took a lesson from Yuki Ito, 29, a former apprentice of mine,” he says. By taking a cue from her posture of not raising her upper body, I was able to regain a powerful step. (She may have been the reason I was able to win the TVh Cup (mentioned at the beginning of this article). I still have the same desire to ‘win. The frustration of losing ignites my fighting spirit, no matter how old I get. I am excited that I can continue to grow.

Kasai’s competitive style, which he has cultivated by overcoming numerous trials, is undiminished. The words he said at the end of our interview sunk deep into my heart.

Look, you can still do it.

Squat slowly while exhaling “whoosh” with two 30 kg weights on the barbell
Jumping lightly on a platform about 1 m high with two 5 kg weights!
Her goal for the future is written in her own handwriting. At the Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium, where the World Cup will be held in Sapporo.
Unpublished cuts: Special interview with Noriaki Kasai (51 years old, “legendary” ski jumper): “See, you can still do it!
Unpublished cuts from the special interview with Noriaki Kasai, 51, “legendary” ski jumper: “See, you can still do it.
Unpublished cuts from the special interview with Noriaki Kasai, 51, “legendary” ski jumper.

From the March 1 and 8, 2024 issues of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Michio Kurose

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