Noriaki Kasai: 30 years of World Cup ski-jumping

noriaki kasai 30 years of world cup skijumping

Ski jumping World Cup leader Ryoyu Kobayashi was still eight years from being born when fellow Japanese Noriaki Kasai made his World Cup debut in the sport in December 1988.

The Berlin Wall was still standing, Ronald Reagan the United States president and first commercial use of an infant internet half a year away.

Now the world has changed dramatically but the eternal Kasai is still leaping from the ski jumping hills at age 46, with the 30th anniversary of his first World Cup event in Sapporo on Monday.

Before that, the veteran will be jumping in Engelberg, Switzerland, at the weekend, hoping to make the top 30 for the first time this season.

Kasai has competed against stars like Matti Nykanen, Janne Ahonen, Dieter Thoma and Jens Weissflog, gone through the transition from the parallel to the v-style, and numerous other technical changes in the daredevil sport.

"What drives me is simple: I love ski jumping," he once said.

Sven Hannawald, the German who famously became the first to win all four stops at one Four Hills Tour, said: "You can see that he is just enjoying it and that he knows he is the grandfather."

Kasai has become a cult figure in the sport and is also an idol for many other jumpers.

"He is my hero, I try to learn from him," ski flying world champion Daniel Andre Tande of Norway said at the Pyeongchang Olympics in February.

The ski-flying world title, from 1992, is the only major success for Kasai who also has four silver medals and six bronze from worlds and Olympics, including a large hill silver and team bronze at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi when he was 42.

He also has 17 World Cup wins between March 1992 and November 2014. The latest one in Kuusamo, Finland, made him the oldest winner at age 42 and his third place on the flying hill in Planica in March 2017 also made him the oldest podium finisher at 44.

"He broke through a barrier with his World Cup win older than 40. It was like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen: that also had to be proven to be possible," German coach Werner Schuster said.

Kasai reckons he has spent enough time in the air during his jumps in more than 550 World Cup events (including 105 at the Four Hills) and the championships to have flown "around the whole world."

Kasai has written a book about jumping beyond age 40 and credits "a strong heart" and eating Japanese food for his longevity.

"I feel like a 20-year-old. I do the same training as the young jumpers, I haven't changed my training regime since I started," he once said.

Kasai was Japan's flag bearer at the Pyeongchang Games and Hannawald says "he is a leader in the Japanese team" but it remains to be seen how much longer he will be competing.

In his search for the elusive Olympic gold he toyed with the idea of competing until 2026 if his home town of Sapporo would host the Olympics that year.

But the city has since withdrawn its bid and is rather pondering another attempt for 2030. Kasai would then be 57.

Original Article