The Olympic ski jumping venue was built with all sorts of wind-breaking measures in place, but there’s only so much we humans can do about the elements. So leave it to the veteran of veterans — seven-time Olympian Noriaki Kasai — to figure everything out and take the first individual Olympic medal of his career (he had a team silver in 1994) while normal hill winner Kamil Stoch won his second gold of the Games.
Sport: Ski jumping
Event: Men’s large hill
Medalists: Kamil Stoch (Poland), Noriaki Kasai (Japan), Peter Prevc (Slovenia)
SportsMyriad projections: Gregor Schlierenzauer (Austria), Kamil Stoch (Poland), Simon Ammann (Switzerland)
How U.S. fared: Seems a little cruel to let someone jump and then tell him his suit is too big, disqualifying him, but that’s what happened to Anders Johnson.
Nick Fairall wasn’t too far out of the top 30, jumping 119.5 meters with a wind disadvantage to finish 35th. Nick Alexander was 48th at 111.5 meters.
What happened: Even with wind adjustments figured into the scoring, several of the top 10 ski jumpers in the world couldn’t figure things out in their first jump, taking themselves out of contention. Four-time gold medalist Simon Ammann barely made the top 30 to qualify for the second jump, while other seeded jumpers missed the cut.
Germany’s Severin Freund restored order with a jump of 138 meters in near-zero wind. Austrian favorite Gregor Schlierenzauer looked happy with his first jump, but he was 5.5 meters behind Freund and lost points on wind and style, good only for 14th.
Then it was 41-year-old Noriaki Kasai of Japan, still looking to improve on his fifth-place finish in the 1994 Olympics (normal hill). And that was his second trip to the Olympics. (This is his seventh.) He has a couple of World Championship medals in his career and plenty of World Cup wins, including one this season in a ski flying (really large hill) event. He certainly flew here — 139 meters with excellent style points — to take the lead.
Slovenia’s Peter Prevc jumped into contention at 135 meters. Then came the normal hill gold medalist, Poland’s Kamil Stoch, who leaped as far as Kasai with slightly better wind and style points.
The top three of Stoch, Kasai and Freund had a sizable gap on Prevc and a large advantage over the rest of the pack heading into the second jump.
The second jump saw a few early jumpers go all over the place — one drifted far to the left, and Russia’s Dimitry Vassiliev caught some nice wind to sail 144.5 meters. He got few style points for the landing, just doing all he could stay upright, but the crowd enjoyed the flight. Officials reset the gate a couple of jumpers later, shortening the ramp (they factor that into the scoring along with the wind).
Schlierenzauer moved up a few places on his second jump and stood third, behind Norway’s Anders Fannemel and Germany’s Marinus Kraus, until the last four took their shots …
Prevc: 131 meters from a low gate with bad wind. So certainly not the farthest jump of the round but the best so far. First place with three to go, and Schlierenzauer was out.
Freund: Not … quite. 129.5 meters in minimal wind. The totals came in, and he bent in two and hung his head when he saw the scores, slotting into second behind Prevc. That clinched a medal for the Slovenian and left the German jumper with a nervous wait.
Kasai: The grand old man of ski jumping jumped 133.5 meters and was mobbed by teammates as soon as he skidded to a halt. The scores put him first, clinching a medal at age 41!
Would it be gold, or would Kamil Stoch get the normal hill/large hill double? Stoch was a bit shorter at 132.5, and the wind was similar. Would his lead stand? Yes … by 1.3 points. Stoch celebrated while Kasai was carried off on his teammates’ shoulders.