31 World Cup seasons and counting... but what keeps Noriaki Kasai going?

The 47-year-old has been competing longer than most of his rivals have been alive. And the three-time Olympic ski jumping medallist wants to carry on into his 50s.

Noriaki Kasai is the oldest flier in town.

The 47-year-old Japanese is embarking on his 31st ski jumping World Cup season having made his debut in Sapporo way back in December 1988.

While reigning overall World Cup champion Ryoyu Kobayashi has taken over as his country's number one, Kasai remains an important member of the Japan team.

And after making his eighth Winter Olympic Games appearance at PyeongChang 2018, the veteran hinted that he wants to compete at Beijing 2022 and perhaps Milan-Cortina 2026.

Kasai has been on the World Cup circuit for longer than most of his rivals have been alive.

The secret to his longevity? He claims there isn't one.

He told Olympic Channel after PyeongChang 2018, "I wake up quite early every day and go for a run. And I try to do some sort of visualisation or meditation.

"I think I have some attributes which are stronger than in other people. But I don't have a special diet or anything."

Kasai's love of training has been with him since childhood, but he says a Finnish coach made him change his outlook on competition in 2001.

"He told me that taking rest and days off is part of training. He actually embedded this rest in our training programme.

"At first, I did not feel I was training sufficiently. But this time off enabled me to refresh myself and that was a big lesson.

"Taking days off and being refreshed is as important as the training itself."

Mentally, he feels a lot stronger than when he was just starting out, admitting, "If I'd had the same mental strength when I was younger, I'm sure I'd have won more medals."

Noriaki Kasai celebrates his large hill silver medal at the Sochi 2014 Olympics
Noriaki Kasai celebrates his large hill silver medal at the Sochi 2014 OlympicsNoriaki Kasai celebrates his large hill silver medal at the Sochi 2014 Olympics

The making of a legend

Kasai was born in June 1972, just four months after Yukio Kasaya led a Japan podium sweep of the normal hill event at the Sapporo Winter Olympics.

After making his World Cup debut as a 16-year-old, he made his name in Europe before his Olympic Games debut at Albertville 1992 where he helped Japan to fourth in the team competition.

A month later, he claimed his first major triumph at the Ski Flying World Championships in Harrachov in the Czech Republic.

Harrachov's Certak hill had a reputation for crashes, and that was where he acquired the nickname 'Kamikaze Kasai'.

He told Olympic Channel, "The jump stand was thought by many to be quite dangerous. But back then, I wasn't afraid of jumping from it during the championships.

"People believed I was, like the kamikaze pilots in World War II, not really afraid of anything."

The following season was his best yet, taking second behind Andreas Goldberger in the 1992-93 Four Hills Tournament including victory at Garmisch.

Noriaki Kasai on his way to third place in the Four Hills opener at Oberstdorf in December 1992 (credit Shaun Botterill/Allsport)
Noriaki Kasai on his way to third place in the Four Hills opener at Oberstdorf in December 1992 (credit Shaun Botterill/Allsport)Noriaki Kasai on his way to third place in the Four Hills opener at Oberstdorf in December 1992 (credit Shaun Botterill/Allsport)

Having established himself as one of the top jumpers in the world. Kasai went to Lillehammer for the 1994 Winter Olympics.

After a disappointing 14th place in the large hill, he and Takanobu Okabe led Japan to team silver before finishing fifth in the normal hill.

But a broken shoulder sustained in a training fall saw him miss all of the 1994-95 season.

In his absence, youngster Kazuyoshi Funaki made his ascent to world class with Okabe also challenging for wins.

Kasai returned to action just in time for the 1995-96 Four Hills but he did not return to the World Cup podium until February 1997 when he took second on the large hill in Hakuba, the venue for the Nagano 1998 Olympics.

He was included in Japan's team on home snow but only finished seventh in the normal hill competition with Funaki taking silver.

That saw him left out of the large hill event where Funaki and Masahiko Harada claimed gold and bronze, and the team competition where the hosts emerged victorious.

That disappointment only served to inspire Kasai who was back in the team which took silver at the 1999 World Championships in Bischofshofen.

He then edged out Funaki to take the Nordic Tournament in March 1999, winning two out of the four World Cup events.

Over the next decade, he continued to be the cornerstone of the Japanese team and went to Salt Lake City 2002.

At the 2003 World Championships in Predazzo, Val di Fiemme, Kasai won two individual bronze medals and led Japan to team silver.

2003 World Championships normal hill podium (L-R): runner-up Tommy Ingebrigtsen, winner Adam Malysz, third-placed Noriaki Kasai
2003 World Championships normal hill podium (L-R): runner-up Tommy Ingebrigtsen, winner Adam Malysz, third-placed Noriaki Kasai2003 World Championships normal hill podium (L-R): runner-up Tommy Ingebrigtsen, winner Adam Malysz, third-placed Noriaki Kasai

He was less successful at Olympic Games despite topping qualifying in both events at Turin 2006, and the large hill at Vancouver 2010.

Kasai was unable to break the top 10 in Turin, and finished eighth in Vancouver.

But that all changed at Sochi 2014.

The omens were good with Kasai, then 41 years old, won his first individual World Cup event for almost 10 years on the flying hill at Tauplitz/Bad Mitterndorf just a month before the Games.

In Russia, he was a promising seventh on the normal hill as Kamil Stoch took gold.

And on the large hill, the old stager was second behind the Pole after the first round with both men leaping 139.0m.

The top two stayed the same after the second round with Stoch completing the double, and Kasai becoming ski jumping's oldest Olympic medallist.

Kasai then helped Japan to bronze in the team competition to earn him a third Olympic medal.

His last individual World Cup podium finish was in March 2017, but he did enough to make the Japan team for PyeongChang 2018.

With his wife and young daughter in attendance, he was unable to add to his medal haul.

But he's not done yet.

"Ski jumping makes me feel great. It's fabulous and something I can barely express in words."

Kasai knows his body is not as young as it used to be with his lower back and knees giving him trouble in recent years:

"That's not because of the jumping itself, but rather due to hard training.

"When I was young, of course, I was able to do everything. I can still do everything now. But if I train too hard, I start to get injuries. That's how I know I'm getting older."

As for his 'legend' tag, Kasai believes that is only a recent development.

"I think maybe just prior to Sochi, I started to be called a legend in the overseas media. I was a bit embarrassed as that word was too big for me.

"But back home in Japan there are now plenty of sporting legends. And I think I am now a real legend because it started overseas. Now I'm not embarrassed anymore.

"I'm very proud and honoured and happy to be known as a legend. And I train hard because I want to live up to that status."

Having passed 550 World Cup appearances and with 600 in his sights, there is little doubt that Kasai has earned all the accolades which have come his way.

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