KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — One of Japan’s hottest gold medal prospects in Sochi wasn’t even born when the country’s greatest ski jumper made his Olympic debut.
Together, former ballerina Sara Takanashi and veteran Noriaki Kasai will attempt to give Japan a pair of podium finishes in the sport at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre.
The Sochi Games will mark the Olympic debut of the 17-year-old Takanashi, and the debut for her sport.
“I want to give my best performance,” said Takanashi, who already has 19 World Cup wins in her young career. “I am aiming for that (the gold medal) but first of all I want to make sure I am on top of each and everything.”
Takanashi was born in 1996, four years after Kasai made his Olympic debut in Albertville, France. Now 41, Kasai will be making his seventh Olympic appearance, and he is already thinking about his future.
“I will try to get an eighth Olympics,” he said.
Women’s ski jumping will make its Olympic debut on Tuesday on the normal hill. The men’s normal final is set for Sunday.
Trying to stop Takanashi will be Carina Vogt, a German who is a distant second in the World Cup standings with 761 points, more than 450 behind the Japanese teen.
Americans should be in the Olympic mix as well. World champion Sarah Hendrickson, who hasn’t competed since undergoing right knee surgery in August, has been impressive in training, as have U.S. trials winner Jessica Jerome and Lindsey Van, women’s ski jumping’s first world champion.
“I can compete against Hendrickson-san and that is what I am looking forward to from now,” said Takanashi, a Hokkaido high school student.
Kasai, the captain of the Japanese delegation, has an Olympic medal — a silver from the 1994 Lillehammer Games in team large hill.
“Obviously I want to win a gold medal. I am in good condition,” said Kasai, who became the oldest World Cup winner with a victory on Jan. 11 in Austria and sits third in the World Cup standings. “I have never won gold medal so that is my biggest motivation.”