Yukio Kasaya, Japan’s First Winter Olympics Champion, Dies at 80

Yomiuri Shimun file photo
Akitsugu Konno, left, Yukio Kasaya, center, and Seiji Aochi celebrate on the podium after sweeping the medals in the 70-meter ski jump at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics.

Yukio Kasaya, who won Japan’s first gold medal at a Winter Olympics when he soared to victory in the 70-meter ski jump at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Games, died Tuesday due to ischemic heart disease, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. Kasaya was 80.

Born in Hokkaido, Kasaya attended a high school in Yoichi in the prefecture and then Meiji University before joining Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. Kasaya placed second in the 70-meter jump at the 1970 FIS World Championships, but his crowning moment came two years later in Sapporo, when he led a Japan clean sweep and was joined on the podium by silver-medalist Akitsugu Konno and bronze-medalist Seiji Aochi. The three ski jumpers were dubbed the “Hinomaru hikotai” (Hinomaru squadron) and their incredible achievement thrilled the nation.

Kasaya retired after the 1976 Winter Games held in Innsbruck, Austria. He later held positions including coach of the Japan national team and put his skills to use in restoring success to Japanese ski jumping. Kasaya also was an executive board member of the Japanese Olympic Committee and was selected as a person of cultural merit in 2018.

Kasaya died at a hospital in Sapporo at about 7:35 a.m. Tuesday. A private funeral service for close relatives has been conducted.