Make me your Homepage
left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Japanese 'bird' poised to soar at Sochi Games

Updated: 2013-12-28 08:18
By Associated Press ( China Daily)

While world champion Sarah Hendrickson continues rehabilitation from a knee injury and still hopes to compete at Sochi, a precocious Japanese flyer has emerged as the gold medal favorite when women's ski jumping debuts at the Winter Olympics in February.

Sara Takanashi has won all three World Cup ski jumping events this season and dominates the overall standings.

In the middle of next month, the 17-year-old Takanashi will have two "home" World Cup events for her to pad her lead - at Sapporo and Zao, Japan.

Hendrickson, meanwhile, hopes to be back jumping at World Cup events next month after surgery to reconstruct the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee on Aug 29, eight days after she was injured in a training camp mishap in Germany.

"Jumping in January and making the Olympic team, that's what's getting me up in the morning. That's what's driving me," Hendrickson said recently.

"I could easily give up on the Olympics, but that's my dream. That's what I've been training for. I want so badly to represent my country."

This weekend the 19-year-old Hendrickson will watch the US trials at Park City, Utah, where the winner of each event is guaranteed a berth on the team for the Winter Games at Sochi.

Hendrickson is a near-certainty to receive a discretionary spot when the team is named on Jan 22, regardless of whether she is able to begin competing regularly again in early January.

Hendrickson and Takanashi are two of the top names in an event that will finally have its breakthrough debut at the Olympics.

The IOC twice rejected women's ski jumping for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics program, saying the sport lacked enough elite competitors. Women jumpers took their case to the Supreme Court of Canada, but failed to overturn the IOC decision in time for Vancouver.

Men have been competing in Olympic ski jumping since 1924 and, in April 2011, the IOC added women's ski jumping to the Winter Games program.

There will be 30 female ski jumpers on the hill on Feb 11 at Sochi, and Takanashi might make the Olympic decision-makers wonder why it took them so long. Last weekend at Hinterzarten, Germany, the 2012 Youth Olympics winner swept to her third World Cup win of the season.

Despite her small stature - she's barely five feet tall - Takanashi mastered the windy conditions to collect a winning total of 239.9 points with jumps of 96 and 98.5 meters, more than 10 points ahead of the second-place finisher.

Takanashi, who graduated from high school last year, credits ballet lessons as a child with helping her maintain balance during her jumps.

"The Olympics in Sochi are my big goal," she said at a World Cup meet earlier this year.

"To fulfil my dream about a gold medal would be a huge success, but I will be glad about any position near the top."

Takanashi's father, Hironari, was a ski jumper, as is her brother. She made her first jump when she was in the second grade at school.

"I was frightened at first, but once I jumped, I found it was fun," she told Japanese media earlier in the year. "It is just like being a bird."

(China Daily 12/28/2013 page16)