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Record-breaker Kasai flies into finals

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Noriaki Kasai competes in the normal hill qualifying event at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Thursday.

By Takeshi Masuda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterPYEONGCHANG — Ski jumping legend Noriaki Kasai took a step toward regaining form by qualifying for the normal hill event finals at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Thursday, marking his record eighth appearance at the Winter Games.

A day ahead of the opening ceremony, the 45-year-old Kasai jumped 98 meters to finish 20th in the qualifying round of the event, which is not his favorite. The result was the second best among four Japanese ski jumpers behind 18th-place Junshiro Kobayashi, who has performed well this season. Junshiro’s brother Ryoyu Kobayashi and Daiki Ito finished 21st and 31st respectively to also qualify for Saturday’s final, in which the athletes with the top 50 scores will compete.

Kasai had felt uneasy about his sluggish takeoff speeds since last season. Inadequate acceleration before takeoff hinders jumpers’ ability to fly along a large curve.

In response, he has adjusted through trial and error his line of vision, height of his lower back and center of gravity, among other subtle changes when positioning for takeoff.

Although his takeoff velocity was often significantly less than those of top athletes at this season’s World Cup, Kasai took off at 85.3 kph in Thursday’s qualifier, only 0.3 kph below the average speed. He also reached the hill’s 98-meter K-point and landed in a telemark position, winning a modest 54 style points.

Ahead of the Olympics, Kasai repeatedly stated his aim was to win a gold medal.

“Things finally started clicking. I’ll work hard to pull off two perfect jumps and make it to the podium,” Kasai said.

Ito battles through pain

Ito made his fourth consecutive Olympic appearance despite having recently recovered from a right shoulder injury. He sustained the injury after falling as he landed during the first event of this season’s World Cup last November. Ito missed two months of competition to focus on his recovery and resumed training in mid-January, giving him just enough time to prepare for the Winter Games.

But Ito still has flashbacks of the fall and cannot fully raise his right arm because of discomfort. Despite his fears and pain, the 32-year-old veteran came to Pyeongchang filled with determination.

“I don’t want to have regrets. I’ll take my chances and compete,” he said.

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