When Sara Takanashi was starting out, women’s ski jumping wasn’t even part of the Olympic programme. It’s now a firm favourite at the Olympic Winter Games – and Takanashi is an equally firm favourite for a medal in PyeongChang. But with strong opposition awaiting, will she fulfil her Olympic dream?
Sara Takanashi was just 16 months old when the Japanese ski jumping team stunned the sporting world by winning two golds and a silver at the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998. She was too young to remember this landmark moment – but both her father and brother were keen jumpers, and so the Hokkaido native soon hit the slopes. She took her first jump aged seven.
In 2012, three months after her 15th birthday, Takanashi arrived in Innsbruck to compete in the first-ever Winter YOG. Having finished sixth in the FIS World Championships the previous year, aged just 14, she arrived as favourite and duly won gold. The diminutive Japanese jumper looked set for a bright future in the sport – but no one could have predicted quite how bright it has turned out to be.
Takanashi won her first World Cup event in March 2012, less than two months after taking gold at the Winter YOG. In the following five seasons, she has won a further 52 World Cup events, ruling her sport to an unprecedented degree.
With 53 career wins, Takanashi is at the top of the all-time women’s ski jumping leaderboard. Nothing illustrates her dominance better than the fact that the athletes in joint second place, Sarah Hendrickson and Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, have 13 wins each.
And yet for all her success, Takanashi will have a real fight on her hands during the women’s normal hill competition on Monday. One of her chief rivals will be another Winter YOG medallist: German jumper Katharina Althaus, who won silver behind Takanashi in Innsbruck.
Althaus has been in terrific form this season, winning two World Cup events and finishing second in four others. Along with such ski jumping stars as compatriot Andreas Wellinger, who won team gold at the Winter YOG 2012 and is competing in two men’s events, Althaus is one of no fewer than 15 Winter YOG ski jumpers in PyeongChang. Can Althaus stun Takanashi and take gold? Find out on Monday in what should be a thrilling competition.