Kobayashi dominates with perfect jumps

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ski jumper Ryoyu Kobayashi makes his first jump in the men’s normal hill Sunday night in Zhangjiakou, China.

BEIJING — Ski jumper Ryoyu Kobayashi flew not only farther but more masterfully to land Team Japan’s first gold medal in the men’s normal hill individual final Sunday at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

While other medal contenders could not extend their distances even with a headwind, Kobayashi outsmarted tailwinds and still scored the highest points for style.

After he finished his second run, the final jump of the day, Kobayashi hugged his elder brother Junshiro, who was convinced of his brother’s victory. Junshiro Kobayashi, another Team Japan finalist, also advanced on his second jump, finishing 27th.

When his victory was confirmed, the younger Kobayashi barked to the sky, spreading out his arms while being mobbed by his teammates.

Kobayashi’s first jump measured 104.5 meters, putting him in front. “I made a really good jump,” Kobayashi said.

Among the top 10 jumpers in the first run, Kobayashi was the only one with a slight tailwind, while the other nine had a headwind, which is favorable for a long leap. Kobayashi jumped so perfectly that it was hard to believe that he faced any adverse conditions.

On his second run, Kobayashi also had to deal with a tailwind. He recalled that he had been nervous, but after the competition he seemed confident about his jumps.

“All I can say is that it was good. I was able to concentrate on both jumps and move as I imagined,” he said.

Kobayashi said he avoided a test jump on the day in order to conserve his strength. He said this is the same competition strategy used by Noriaki Kasai, the coach of Tsuchiya Home, a team Kobayashi belongs to.

Kasai won a silver medal in the individual large hill at the 2014 Sochi Games, and at the age of 49, he continues to be an athlete. Kasai, whose nickname is “Legend,” will avoid test jumps if there is the possibility of fatigue.

“As I had a good image [of the jump], I decided to avoid it,” he said.

Kobayashi said he was confident after the qualifying round the day before, and Kasai, who was visiting the venue, noticed Kobayashi’s condition.

“Seeing him skip a test, I thought he was in very good shape. I was sure he could win a medal,” Kasai said. “By skipping the test, he was more able to concentrate.”

Surpassing his mentor’s silver medal, Kobayashi won the first gold for Japan’s ski jumping team since the 1998 Nagano Games, when Kazuyoshi Funaki won in the large hill individual event.

In Japan, it has been said that the extreme pressure to perform at the Olympics lurks like a monster to keep athletes from their true potential.

“Maybe I was the monster,” said Kobayashi, the apprentice of a “legend” who just became a legend himself.