Ski jumping star Takanashi misses out on medal

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Yomiuri Shimbun Sara Takanashi flies during the women’s normal hill individual ski jumping first round at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Saturday.

BEIJING — Ski jumper Sara Takanashi was unable to follow up on her bronze medal from the previous Olympics, finishing fourth in the women’s normal hill individual event at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Saturday.

Takanashi was in fifth place after a first-round jump of 98.50 meters, but a second attempt of 100 meters was not enough as she finished with 224.1 points to miss out on a medal by 7.9 points.

Ursa Bogataj, who has never even won a World Cup title, combined with Nika Kriznar to give Slovenia a 1-3 finish, winning the gold medal with 239.0 points. Germany’s Katharina Althaus won the silver at 236.8 and Kriznar the bronze at 232.0

Yuki Ito, making her third Olympic appearance, placed 13th, followed by Yuka Seto in 14th and Kaori Iwabuchi in 18th.

For Takanashi, her big jump of 100 meters in the second round put her into the provisional lead and kept alive her hopes of landing on the podium. As the last jumper, Althaus, stepped up for her final attempt, Takanashi was sitting in third place.

But Althaus passed her, relegating Takanashi to a second fourth-place finish at an Olympics, having also done so at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

“I had a lot of people supporting me,” Takanashi said in a strained voice. “I’m disappointed that I couldn’t repay them with a good result.”

The past four years have been a battle with herself. Small for the sport at 1.52 meters, Takanashi has had to rework every aspect of her form in order to compete with larger overseas competitors, such as how to keep from losing run-up speed.

She has long been the “thinks too much” type who agonizes over things right up to bedtime. She even dreams of ski jumping at times.

Takanashi took up yoga during the coronavirus pandemic, which has helped her control her emotions. She has learned when to relax and turn off the switch, and when to warm up and turn it on. It also helps regulate her breathing as she makes her way to the top of the jump.

She seemed to be on the track toward Olympic success until she had problems with her approach and lift-off at a World Cup meet last December in Lillehammer, Norway. She could not perform as she wanted. “This is not what I intended,” she said, her face pale from anguish.

Doing everything she could to break out of her funk, she came up with her first World Cup victory of the season on New Year’s Day. She said her jumps were 90% complete.

The last obstacle was the jumping hill at the Zhangjiakou National Ski Jumping Centre. The slope is mild, and the winds are unstable. During official practice, she could not get a good feel for it.

A slow start with an opening jump of 98.50 meters put her behind her rivals. In the end, she couldn’t catch up, and could only accept the cruel result as tears welled up in her eyes.