Sunday, February 15, 1998
Harada finally gets Olympic medalHAKUBA, Japan (AP) -- First came the tears, then the smile. It wasn't the gold, but Masahiko Harada finally had an Olympic medal -- and a record to go with it.
Twice before Harada had failed with his nation watching. At Lillehammer in 1994, his disastrous final leap cost Japan's team a gold medal. Just four days ago he seemed headed for a gold medal in the normal hill competition, but his final jump fell short again, and he finished fifth.
On Sunday, at the center of Japan's attention once again, the 29-year-old finally produced what he likes to call a "Harada jump" -- 136 meters long, 4.5 meters over the hill record.
It was good only for the bronze medal, but Harada had partly redeemed himself.
"For my life, this medal is something remarkable," Harada said. "I want to engrave this event in my heart."
"I feel just great. I finally got an individual Olympic medal. It's a big plus for my future career," he said.
Harada's achievement came on a big day for Japan, with Kazuyoshi Funaki soaring to the gold medal in the large hill (120 meters) ski jumping with a perfect second jump.
The last time a Japanese jumper won an Olympic event was 1972 in Sapporo, the last time the Winter Games were held in this country. That year Japan swept gold, silver and bronze.
Before these Olympics, Japan's media and some ski jumping experts were talking of another Japanese sweep. Those predictions only made Harada's failure Wednesday more bitter -- and gave him more to make up for.
"I read the papers and I saw the TV, I saw the headlines 'Harada failed again,"' he said. "I didn't want to do that again and I promised to myself that I will not repeat the same mistake. I was able to perform a super jump."
After the awards ceremony, Harada wept on national television.
"The interviewer asked me to whom I would give the flowers. She started crying and it made me cry. The flowers of course go to my wife, who has blessed me with two children," he said.
"They told me, 'Daddy, do your best," and daddy did it, this is proo of what daddy was able to do."
Harada's jump was so long that it even caught the video distance measuring system by surprise. The system was set to measure only distances between 95 and 135 meters, so Harada's leap had to be measured by hand.
Although his was by far the longest jump of the day, Harada had a mandatory points deduction because he failed to land with a telemark. That gave the silver medal to Jani Soininen of Finland.
Harada was sixth after his first leap of 120 meters, and five jumpers went after him in the final series.
Lasse Ottesen of Norway landed 122 meters and dropped behind. The came Funaki and he soared 132.5 meters, taking the lead for good after getting a perfect 20 scores from all five judges for his immaculate style and telemark landing. The crowd went wild.
Soinien came next and leaped 126.5, too short to challenge Funaki.
Japan's Takanobu Okabe did only 119.5 and could not hold onto his second place.
Finally, first-jump leader Andreas Widhoelzl went last. He flew 120.5, not enough to win.
Funaki was the clear winner, but who was second, third and fourth?
Harada and Soininen even went to the wrong places on the podium before the final results were confirmed.
Funaki's total of 272.3 points, after a 126-meter first jump, gave him his second medal of the games after the silver on the normal hill. Soininen, the normal hill champion, had 260.8 points for jumps of 129.5 and 126.5.
Harada had 258.3 points to edge Widhoelzl, the 90-meter bronze medalist, by 0.1 of a point.