Takanashi aiming to soar to new heights at PyeongChang 2018

Japanese ski jumper Sara Takanashi has over 50 World Cup wins, four crystal globes and a Winter Youth Olympic Games gold medal to her name. But after finishing fourth when women’s ski jumping made its Olympic debut at Sochi 2014, she will be aiming to top the podium at PyeongChang 2018, where she will start as favourite on the back of some imperious form.

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Takanashi was also a clear favourite four years ago. Aged just 17 at the time, she had completely dominated the preceding World Cup season, winning 15 of the 18 events to secure a second consecutive crystal globe.

The youngster from Kamikawa, on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, had already earned a taste of Olympic glory when she emerged as the clear winner at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Innsbruck 2012.

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All that counted for nothing in Sochi, however. Takanashi lay third after going out to 100m with her first jump, but could only manage 98.5m with her second. She finished out of the medal positions in fourth, with the inaugural gold going to Germany’s Carina Vogt instead. Austria’s Daniela Iraschko-Stolz and France’s Coline Mattel completed the podium.

Beaten but unbowed

“I came here wanting to do my best,” said an inconsolable Takanashi afterwards. “I’m incredibly disappointed I couldn’t jump the way I wanted to on both attempts. I have realised my mental weakness. It’s not just me that is disappointed – look at how many people have supported me in my journey; I was thinking about all of them. Clearly something was different tonight, but it was nice to be on the stage. My nerves cost me my medal.

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“The fighter in me will fight till the very end,” she added. “I want to come back to the Olympics a much more polished ski jumper and do my country proud.”

Dominant form

Despite having dominated the last two World Cup seasons, winning her third and fourth crystal globes, Takanashi knows she will not have it easy in PyeongChang: “The level of women’s ski jumping is constantly improving,” she reflects. “First and foremost, I need to focus on my own performances and do the best I can.”

The 2015/16 season saw the Japanese ski jumper rack up 14 wins (including 10 in a row) in 18 events to win her third World Cup title by 471 points, ahead of Olympic silver medallist Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria.

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Takanashi was almost as consistent in retaining her title the following season, scoring nine wins and 15 top-three placings in all, and never finishing lower than fifth.

Two of those podium finishes came in the PyeongChang 2018 test events on the HS109 hill at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre. A runner-up to her compatriot Yuki Ito in the first, Takanashi won the second to make it 53 career World Cup wins. All this before she had even turned 20! The only other ski jumper – male or female – to have enjoyed similar success at such a young age is Austria’s Gregor Schlierenzauer.

The one competition in which Takanashi has yet to impose herself is the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. Fourth in Falun (SWE) in 2015, she took bronze in Lahti (FIN) two years later behind the winner Carina Vogt and Ito, while also winning bronze both times in the mixed team normal hill.

The perfect warm-up

When the new Olympic season got under way with the 2017 Summer Grand Prix, the Japanese star was once again in majestic form. Victorious in four of the five events, she won the competition for a sixth time and was only denied a clean sweep by disqualification in Frenstat (CZE) in August.

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Wiser and more confident than she was on her Olympic debut in 2014, Takanashi has every reason to believe she can convert her superlative recent form into gold.