Ski jumper Nakamura takes business-like approach

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Naoki Nakamura takes his first jump in the men’s team event on Monday.

For Naoki Nakamura, soaring refers as much to profits as to how he flies through the air as a ski jumper.

Nakamura made the Japanese team for the Beijing Winter Olympics with a unique background — as an entrepreneur who founded a company to raise the funds to keep competing in the sport.

“A ski jumper and the operator of a company; doing both at the same time was more fun than I thought,” Nakamura said prior to the Olympics.

The 25-year-old Nakamura’s Olympics ended on Monday night when, in his last chance for a medal, he was part of the Japanese quartet that finished fifth in the team event.

Aiming for Japan’s first medal since taking the bronze at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the team of Yukiya Sato, Nakamura, Junshiro Kobayashi and double individual medalist Ryoyu Kobayashi was fifth after the first round of jumps, and ended up there after the second with a total of 882.8 points, more than 40 points out of third.

Austria won the gold medal with 942.7 points, followed by Slovenia with 934.4. Germany edged Norway by 0.8 for the bronze with 922.9.

When Nakamura began ski jumping as an elementary school fifth grader in Sapporo, it was not with dreams of Olympic glory. He wanted to lose weight.

A voracious eater of steamed rice, he packed a stout 65 kilograms on his 1.50-meter frame, earning the nickname “Asashoryu” after the great yokozuna and top sumo wrestler at that time.

Growing up near the Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium, the ski jump world was always close by. When a youth club put on an event to attract newcomers, he became so fascinated by the older members’ big jumps that he decided to join.

He was hardly a natural at first. “He was falling more than flying,” said his coach at the time, Katsutoshi Chiba. “[But] he was good at using the skis and had good athletic ability.”

Seeing Nakamura still portly in his second year of junior high school, Chiba made a proposal. “Let’s really try to lose weight [together]. We’ll have a contest and see who can lose more.” At a summer training camp, they ran an 8-kilometer course every day.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Naoki Nakamura, right, joins team members, from left, Ryoyu Kobayashi, Yukiya Sato and Junshiro Kobayashi after the final jump of men’s team event at the Beijing Olympics on Monday.

Nakamura dropped about five kilograms that summer, much to the surprise of classmates who, upon seeing his sleek physique, would ask, “Who’s that?”

He started producing good results in competition, and even beat future Olympic gold medalist Ryoyu Kobayashi, who is the same age, at a meet in his third year of high school.

The turning point came in the autumn of his senior year at Tokai University, when he had almost reached a deal to join a corporate team but the talks fell through. He received offers from other companies, but instead decided, “I’ll just start my own company.”

A short time before that, Nakamura had been searching for sponsors to avoid burdening his parents, which brought him into contact with a number of entrepreneurs. He gradually gained insight into the procedures and benefits of setting up his own company.

“When the money runs out, I’ll stop my career,” Nakamura decided. After graduating from Tokai, he launched Flying Laboratory LLC, a ski team management company, in November 2019.

Currently, Nakamura is the company’s only employee and its only athlete member. He is now busy looking for sponsors so he can participate in competitions. He also opened a paid virtual community aimed at fans as a fund-raising effort.

Taking a different path from other athletes, Nakamura made it to the ultimate stage.

“I want people to see me enjoying myself on the Olympic stage,” he said.