Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai has competed at seven consecutive Olympic Games, beginning in 1992. He owns a total of three Olympic medals, including two that he won at the 2014 Sochi Games. The simple reason he’s still competing, he says, is because he’s lacking a gold medal.
Even before Sochi, Kasai hinted that he would aim for an eighth Olympics in PyeongChang, partly because his family had never seen him compete at an Olympics. With South Korea so close to Japan, he said at the time, it would be a good opportunity for his family.
Ski jumping beginnings
Kasai was born June 6, 1972 in Hokkaido, Japan – the northern Japanese island where Sapporo, which hosted the 1972 Winter Olympic Games a few months before his birth, is located. He first tried his hand as a track and field athlete, specializing in the 10,000m, but by age 9 he attempted ski jumping.
Major competitions/ medals
In his 1992 Olympic debut, Kasai finished 31st and 26th on the normal and large hills, respectively. Kasai and the Japanese contingent also put up a fourth place finish in the team event.
Two years later, in Lillehammer, Kasai reached fifth place on the normal hill and 14th on the large hill. He stood on the podium with his teammates, as they claimed a silver medal in the team event.
At the 1998 Olympics hosted in Nagano, Japan, Kasai only competed in one event, the normal hill, where he finished seventh.
At the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002, Kasai posted his worst Olympic results. He finished 49th on the normal hill and 41st on the large hill. He did not compete in the team event.
In 2006, Kasai finished 20th on the normal hill and 12th on the large hill. The Japanese team, including Kasai, finished in sixth place.
At the 210 Vancouver Olympics, Kasai again went without winning a medal. He finished 17th on the normal hill, eighth on the large hill, and wound up in fifth place in the team event.
Kasai’s breakthrough came at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He finished eighth on the normal hill, but won a silver medal on the large hill. He stood on the podium again in Sochi, winning a bronze medal alongside the Japanese squad in the team event.
Kasai has yet to rule out the 2022 Olympics, when he’ll be 50 years old. He hasn’t yet ruled out competing at the 2026 Games either, particularly if they are awarded to Sapporo, Japan – essentially his home city.
Kasai has competed at world championships since 1989 and owns seven medals. Individually, he won normal and large hill bronze medals in 1993. The rest of his medals – two silvers and three bronzes – were won in team events.
Kasai made his seventh consecutive appearance at the Winter Olympics, tying the record he shares with Russian luger Albert Demchenko. Kasai could stand alone with eight appearances, should Demchenko choose not to pursue a chance on the 2018 Olympic team.
Kasai also tied the record for longest time in between two Olympic medal wins, with his silver medal win on the large hill during the 2014 Sochi Games. His first medal was a team silver, which he won 20 years prior, in Lillehammer at the 1994 Olympics.
With his silver medal won in Sochi, he became the oldest ski jumping individual medalist in Olympic history. Kasai was 41 – well past ski jumping legend Birger Ruud’s age of 36 years and 168 days when he won a medal in 1948.
Kasai became the oldest overall ski jumping medalist with his bronze medal in the team event, aged 41 years and 256 days.
Guinness World Records presented Kasai with two awards in a January 2016 ceremony. He notched the most appearances in FIS Nordic World Ski Championships by an individual ski jumper, competing in 12 of the biennial events between 1989 and 2015. He also has the most individual starts in FIS Ski Jumping World Cup competitions – approaching 500!
There’s even a Polish rap song about Kasai, a credit to his longevity and celebrity status in his home country as well as Poland, a ski jumping-crazed country.
Kasai has two nicknames: Kamikaze Kasai and “Legend,” which he earned after his historic two medals in Sochi.
“I didn’t really think much about being the only girl. When I was young, there were no women role models, so I looked up to Kasai.” – Japanese ski jumper Yuki Ito, who finished seventh in Sochi
“I have huge respect for Noriaki Kasai. I wasn’t even born when he was jumping in the World Cup and when he was battling me I said, ‘I still had 20 years to improve myself.’ He’s an inspiration for my future jumping.” – 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Peter Prevc of Slovenia
Kasai has competed in seven consecutive Olympic Games, dating back to 1992. The 2018 PyeongChang Olympics would mark Kasai’s eighth Olympics.
Outside of training
Kasai has an annual vacation tradition: He visits Hawaii once the season is over and typically plays golf. He also enjoys fishing and is a car enthusiast.
He cites one of the reasons for his longevity as a 30 to 40 minute run every morning and every night, a training regimen he has kept up for as long as he can remember. He doesn’t skip a run, despite whether conditions, and believes it keeps his body fresh and loose.
In early 2016, Kasai became a father for the first time.