Japanese jumper Kobayashi flies to gold in normal hill ski jump

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ryoyu Kobayashi celebrates after winning the men’s normal hill event at the Winter Olympics on Sunday.

BEIJING — Ryoyu Kobayashi won the normal hill event on Sunday, giving Japan its first gold medal in men’s ski jumping in 24 years and its first gold overall at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The 25-year-old Kobayashi jumped 104.5 meters on his first attempt and 99.50 meters on his second, for a total score of 275.0 points.

It was Japan’s first Olympic gold in a ski event since the 1998 Nagano Games: where Japan won three gold medals. That year Tae Satoya took gold in the women’s moguls event in freestyle skiing, and Kazuyoshi Funaki won gold in the large hill and the men’s large hill team.

Kobayashi became the third Japanese skier to win gold in an individual jump event — the first was Yukio Kasaya in the K70 competition on the normal hill at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics. Kobayashi’s gold was also Japan’s 60th medal in all Winter Olympic events so far.

In the women’s moguls, 17-year-old Anri Kawamura finished fifth in freestyle skiing with 77.12 points.

Emerging talent

Kobayashi clenched his right fist after landing beyond the green line that shows how far a competitor must jump to take the lead.

“I’m so happy,” Kobayashi said after his victory.

Born in Hachimantai, Iwate Prefecture, Kobayashi also competed in Nordic combined at Morioka Chuo High School.

His talent blossomed after he was scouted by Winter Olympic legend Noriaki Kasai, 49, who coaches the ski team to which Kobayashi now belongs.

Kobayashi finished seventh in the normal hill at the previous 2018 Pyeongchang Games. In the following 2018-19 season, however, he became the first non-European jumper to take the World Cup overall title.

Kobayashi went on to 26 World Cup victories — the most of any Japanese male skier — breaking Kasai’s record of 17 wins. Both Kasaya and Funaki won gold medals at Olympics held in Japan, while Kobayashi achieved another milestone by winning Olympic gold overseas.

Kobayashi is known for his still, elegant jumps, but Kasai has also praised his takeoffs. When launching into the air at speeds of 80 kph to 90 kph, many skiers cannot transfer their momentum due to their skis slipping backward when they take off. Kobayashi, however, can fully transfer his momentum, allowing him to fly far.

He became able to do so by improving his natural sense of balance through Kasai’s training regime, including jumping from unstable boards placed on two round poles and slacklining.

Sunday marked 50 years since Japanese skiers, led by Kasaya, took all three K70 podium spots at the Sapporo Olympics. On a memorable day, a young ski jumping rebel set a new milestone.