TORINO: Ski jump: Japan's Harada returns for Games No. 5


TORINO: Ski jump: Japan’s Harada returns for Games No. 5{mosimage}PRAGELATO, Italy – Masahiko Harada is back at the Olympics for a fifth time.

Harada landed three jumps of over 100 meters in practice on Friday and was rewarded for his efforts with the fourth spot on Japan’s ski jumping team.

First up is qualifying Saturday for Sunday’s normal-hill individual ski jumping competition.

Harada, a 1998 Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion, hasn’t competed on the elite World Cup circuit since late 2002. But with normal-hill competition at Torino, he couldn’t resist making another bid for the Winter Games.

At 37, Harada will be the oldest competitor in the ski-jumping competition.

”I still do this because I love it,” said Harada, who had jumps of 100.5, 102 and 101.5 meters. ”I hope my performance will inspire our younger athletes.”

Japan won four medals in ski jumping in Nagano in 1998, including the team large-hill gold medal, but missed out on the podium in Salt Lake City four years later.

The Japan team was fifth on the large hill and Harada slipped to 20th in the individual events.

Joining Harada in Sunday’s normal-hill event will be veterans Noriaki Kasai (33), Takanobu Okabe (35) and 20-year-old Daiki Ito.

Friday’s training session was encouraging for Japan. Kasai also had three jumps of over 100 meters.

While skipping the World Cup events, Harada has stayed in shape by competing at some lower-tier international events in normal hill events.

The Japanese veteran has had his ups and downs at the Olympics. In 1994, he failed on the last attempt when a jump of 105 meters would have secured a team gold medal for Japan.

He made amends at Nagano, tying an Olympic record with a leap of 137 meters on the final jump to help Japan to gold.

”Harada is a professional,” said Japan’s Finnish coach Kari Ylianttila. ”If you work hard and stay in shape like he does, you can compete in just about any sport at that age.”

Harada, who made his Olympic debut at Albertville in 1992, is a specialist on the normal hill and said he likes the feel of the hill in Pragelato.

”This hill suits my style,” said Harada. ”If the wind conditions are right on Sunday, you never know. We’ll see what happens.”

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