CANOE NAGANO '98 ISP DIRECTORY
Tuesday, February 17, 1998
'I did it! I did it!': Harada
HAKUBA, Japan (AP) -- With each second in the air, each additional foot covered, Masahiko Harada and his Japanese teammates soared farther and farther away from the disgrace of Lillehammer.
Harada, who turned in the worst jump at the worst possible moment four years ago, produced a record leap this time to set up an historic gold medal in team ski jumping before a horn-blowing, flag-waving crowd of 50,000.
"I did it! I did it!" Harada said, bursting into tears at the finish line.
The victory Tuesday (Monday night EST), secured when Kazuyoshi Funaki soared 125 meters on the final jump of the snowy day, gave Japan eight medals from its own games. That's one more than the nation's previous high for the Winter Olympics, and it marked the first time Japan has won more than one gold medal.
This particular gold carried additional weight -- redemption.
At Lillehammer, the Japanese team led Germany with one jump left, and Harada needed to go only 105 meters, a ski-jumping gimme.
He failed. Harada mistimed his jump and managed only 97.5 meters, the shortest of the day in the top group. Germany had the gold. Japan was second, and Harada was ashamed.
"I was very much concerned that it would happen again," Harada said. "The only thing I had in mind was to jump as long as possible."
This time, Harada was up third for Japan, following a 137-meter leap by teammate Takanobu Okabe, the longest in Olympic history. Austria and Finland were challenging, and Harada knew he had to come through.
He did. Although he almost sat down on landing, his leap had to be hand-measured because it was so long and past the usual marker points. The crowd erupted when the scoreboard flashed 137 meters, matching Okabe's record jump.
Harada was already in tears as he was hugged by Okabe and Saito, and Japan increased its lead to 25 points with Funaki still to come.
Now the expectations that had pushed Harada into the Norwegian snow was on Funaki.
"Now I know how Harada felt in the last Olympics," Funaki said. "I felt enormous pressure on my entire body, really. But the result was the gold. It's great."
The totals flashing on the big scoreboard at the bottom of the jumping hill that's 30 yards taller that the Statue of Liberty's torch drew a roar from the crowd, which included the emperor's daughter, Princess Sayako. Funaki fell back into the snow, where his teammates pounced upon him in joy.
"All four of us worked together and got the gold. We helped each other. Everyone was the best," Harada said. "It wasn't me. It was all the teammates. It wasn't me.
"The spectators all worked hard, too. I won't cry."
But he did, and who could blame him? The victory was a classic, a see-saw battle among the best ski-jumping nations in the world.
Japan totaled 933 points to win the title, and Germany, the defending titlist, wound up with the silver this time with 897.4. Austria's final jumper, Andreas Widhoelzl, soared to 136.5 to capture the bronze ahead of Norway.
The title appeared to be slipping away from Japan after the first round when Harada, hampered by difficult wind conditions, managed only a leap of 79.5 meters in his first attempt. The Japanese team slipped to fourth behind Austria, Germany and Norway.
It was Okabe who brought Japan back with an amazing leap of 137 meters with his second-round jump. That beat the 136 meters Harada had jumped in Sunday's 120m individual event for the longest ever in Olympic history and put Japan in first place ahead of the Germans.
After Germany's Martin Schmitt threatened the Japanese lead with a jump of 126.5 meters, Hiroya Saito maintained the advantage with a leap of 124 although the Japanese were only 5.2 points ahead halfway through the second round.
Then came Harada's long-awaited moment of redemption, in which he seemed to draw strength from the crowd.
"This is Nagano," he explained.