Friendship Envoy

Noriaki Kasai

1 top photo Noriaki Kasai

PROFILE

Noriaki Kasai, born in 1972, is an active ski jumper from Hokkaido known globally as “The Legend.” He set the world record of most appearances in Winter Olympics, totaling eight since 1992. Kasai also ties the record for longest gap between winning medals: he earned the silver medal in a team event at Lillehammer in 1994, and 20 years later, became ski jumping’s oldest individual medalist (silver) in Sochi 2014. He also earned the bronze medal in a team event.


Kasai won the World Cup held at Ruka in Finland that same year, renewing the record for “oldest winner” at 42 years and 5 months. Kasai’s ski team “Team Tsuchiya” welcomed two Finnish coaches in 2002, and trains every year in Finland.


I wondered just how much I can be in the sauna, so when I was in Rovaniemi, I stayed in the sauna for 10 minutes and cooled down with two of my ski mates… and did that for a total of 11 sets.

  • Kasai cheers for his teammate with coach Vaatainen at Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018.
  • “Wind-tunnel” ski training at the Helsinki University of Technology.
    Photo: Tsuchiya Home
  • Photo: Tsuchiya Home

INTERVIEW

You have been to Finland many times for tournaments and training. Could you reflect back on when you first visited Finland?

I was in high school and age of 16 when I first visited Finland to attend the World Championships held at Lahti. I did miserably, when (Finnish jumpers) Matti Nykänen and Jari Puikkonen were winning medals. It was my first time seeing such a full, amazing audience. They were packed tight, cheering fervently.

Matti Nykänen was the king of ski jump back then, whom you also admired. Did you talk to him at Lahti?

No, not then. But when I saw him at one of the tournaments in the United States, he invited me to his room. Nykänen had just won the silver medal. As a second grader in high school, I had also started doing well and ranked 7th. I was looking admiringly at Nykänen in the restaurant at the hotel, and he noticed and talked to me. He was like “hey, you did well.” He signed his autograph on his jumping suit and boots, and gave them to me. I still have them.

When did you start training in Finland?

Team Tsuchiya started inviting Finnish coaches in the summer of 2002. Since then, we started going to Finland during the summer and right before the World Cup in wintertime. Janne Väätäinen is the 4th Finnish coach at the moment.

You’ve already had 4 coaches from Finland! Does the coaching style differ between Finland and Japan?

No, not really… well, it’s been more than 10 years since we have Finnish coaches, so we take it for granted.

Before that, I used to train feverishly, without much rest. Japanese tend to be too serious, and they rarely take time off. Finland’s coaching style was efficient and emphasized quality over quantity. We were made sure to rest, and refresh ourselves. We enjoyed dog-sleighs and snow mobiles, and went to watch wild bears. Now I’m trying to teach this Finnish style to the young athletes.

Do you mean to say that you yourself were influenced somehow by Finland through the coaches?

Of course! I made myself into a perfect state both physically and mentally for the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, and still I did horribly. Quite discouraged, I was losing sight of myself when my team decided to invite coaches from Finland in the summer of 2002. From them I got advice in jumping and training, which changed my results drastically - I got 3 medals at the World Championships the next year! I was able to dream and keep high hopes again thanks to the Finnish style.

The way of giving advice was different to those of Japanese coaches. They took videos of each jump, and showed us and gave us specific instructions each time. We also received advice by watching our videos at meetings in the evenings.

We also did this “wind-tunnel” ski training at the Helsinki University of Technology. Everything is measured in numerical terms, from where the wind resistance is felt in the “approach position” to how to receive the wind when jumping. There was also a similar equipment in Japan at the Tokyo University back then, but it was old and not meant for ski jumping.

Could you share with us some memories from your stays in Finland?

I was surprised of the white nights during my first training in Finland, I couldn’t sleep… (laugh). My impression is that in Finland, people are usually quiet but when we drink together they become really fun. And sauna is like “ofuro” (Japanese bath) over there, like every house having their own sauna. I also go to sauna almost every day when I’m in Finland.

I wondered just how much I can be in the sauna, so when I was in Rovaniemi 2 years ago, I stayed in the sauna for 10 minutes and cooled down with two of my ski mates… and did that for a total of 11 sets. My ski mate didn’t quite understand how the key worked at the sauna cottage, so we got locked out! It was minus 5 degrees then, and all I had was one towel... ahh, that was cold (laugh).

Japan and Finland are celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations in 2019. How do you think the relationship of the two countries should develop in the field of winter sports?

I was connected with Finland through ski jumping, so I hope to continue jumping and deepen our exchanges there… and when I retire and become a coach I’d like to train in Finland, and also teach Finnish young jumpers and make them competitive. I began to think this way after my periodical stays in Finland.

Japanese athletes from skin jumping to cross country train in Finland nowadays. I hope many youngsters will become skiers and jumpers by watching the current athletes do well. If the amount of skiing enthusiasts grows, then there will be more rising stars. I would like to deepen our interactions this way.

And as I said before, I love sauna. I even imported one from Finland for the house I’m currently building in Sapporo, so I can enjoy it together with my ski mates and coaches. There is also a garden where we can grill makkara (“sausage” in Finnish). To enjoy sauna and grill makkara in the garden with Lapin Kulta beer in hand… that’s my dream.

INTERVIEW

You have been to Finland many times for tournaments and training. Could you reflect back on when you first visited Finland?

I was in high school and age of 16 when I first visited Finland to attend the World Championships held at Lahti. I did miserably, when (Finnish jumpers) Matti Nykänen and Jari Puikkonen were winning medals. It was my first time seeing such a full, amazing audience. They were packed tight, cheering fervently.

Matti Nykänen was the king of ski jump back then, whom you also admired. Did you talk to him at Lahti?

No, not then. But when I saw him at one of the tournaments in the United States, he invited me to his room. Nykänen had just won the silver medal. As a second grader in high school, I had also started doing well and ranked 7th. I was looking admiringly at Nykänen in the restaurant at the hotel, and he noticed and talked to me. He was like “hey, you did well.” He signed his autograph on his jumping suit and boots, and gave them to me. I still have them.

When did you start training in Finland?

Team Tsuchiya started inviting Finnish coaches in the summer of 2002. Since then, we started going to Finland during the summer and right before the World Cup in wintertime. Janne Väätäinen is the 4th Finnish coach at the moment.

You’ve already had 4 coaches from Finland! Does the coaching style differ between Finland and Japan?

No, not really… well, it’s been more than 10 years since we have Finnish coaches, so we take it for granted.

Before that, I used to train feverishly, without much rest. Japanese tend to be too serious, and they rarely take time off. Finland’s coaching style was efficient and emphasized quality over quantity. We were made sure to rest, and refresh ourselves. We enjoyed dog-sleighs and snow mobiles, and went to watch wild bears. Now I’m trying to teach this Finnish style to the young athletes.

Do you mean to say that you yourself were influenced somehow by Finland through the coaches?

Of course! I made myself into a perfect state both physically and mentally for the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, and still I did horribly. Quite discouraged, I was losing sight of myself when my team decided to invite coaches from Finland in the summer of 2002. From them I got advice in jumping and training, which changed my results drastically - I got 3 medals at the World Championships the next year! I was able to dream and keep high hopes again thanks to the Finnish style.

The way of giving advice was different to those of Japanese coaches. They took videos of each jump, and showed us and gave us specific instructions each time. We also received advice by watching our videos at meetings in the evenings.

We also did this “wind-tunnel” ski training at the Helsinki University of Technology. Everything is measured in numerical terms, from where the wind resistance is felt in the “approach position” to how to receive the wind when jumping. There was also a similar equipment in Japan at the Tokyo University back then, but it was old and not meant for ski jumping.

Could you share with us some memories from your stays in Finland?

I was surprised of the white nights during my first training in Finland, I couldn’t sleep… (laugh). My impression is that in Finland, people are usually quiet but when we drink together they become really fun. And sauna is like “ofuro” (Japanese bath) over there, like every house having their own sauna. I also go to sauna almost every day when I’m in Finland.

I wondered just how much I can be in the sauna, so when I was in Rovaniemi 2 years ago, I stayed in the sauna for 10 minutes and cooled down with two of my ski mates… and did that for a total of 11 sets. My ski mate didn’t quite understand how the key worked at the sauna cottage, so we got locked out! It was minus 5 degrees then, and all I had was one towel... ahh, that was cold (laugh).

Japan and Finland are celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations in 2019. How do you think the relationship of the two countries should develop in the field of winter sports?

I was connected with Finland through ski jumping, so I hope to continue jumping and deepen our exchanges there… and when I retire and become a coach I’d like to train in Finland, and also teach Finnish young jumpers and make them competitive. I began to think this way after my periodical stays in Finland.

Japanese athletes from skin jumping to cross country train in Finland nowadays. I hope many youngsters will become skiers and jumpers by watching the current athletes do well. If the amount of skiing enthusiasts grows, then there will be more rising stars. I would like to deepen our interactions this way.

And as I said before, I love sauna. I even imported one from Finland for the house I’m currently building in Sapporo, so I can enjoy it together with my ski mates and coaches. There is also a garden where we can grill makkara (“sausage” in Finnish). To enjoy sauna and grill makkara in the garden with Lapin Kulta beer in hand… that’s my dream.

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