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Japanese teen blazing trail for flying women Japan urged to demonstrate energy in Sochi

TOKYO, Jan 20, (AFP): Sara Takanashi, just 17 years old and 150 centimetres (five feet) tall, is blazing a trail in women’s ski jumping with a record World Cup win ahead of her sport’s Olympic debut. But the Japanese schoolgirl, carrying the weight of her country’s limited gold medal hopes at the Sochi Games, says she is too concerned about improving her own jumps to care much about her place in the record books. “I usually think about how I can enjoy jumping rather than the record,” Takanashi said on Sunday when she clinched her eighth victory from nine World Cup events contested so far this season. “I want to work harder still and raise my level higher and higher,” she told reporters in Zao, north of Tokyo. The victory, her fourth in a row, has stretched her record of World Cup titles to 17. “It was really great because I think I can now go to Sochi with a positive image in my mind.”

On Jan 11 in Sapporo, she broke the previous mark of 13 wins set by world champion Sarah Hendrickson. The 19-year-old American, the winner of the inaugural women’s World Cup overall title in the 2011-2012 season, is recovering from a cruciate ligament injury after a fall in August. She is hoping to compete again this month. Takanashi, who was beaten into second spot by Hendrickson at last year’s worlds after dominating the 2012-2013 World Cup tour, believes the American’s comeback will spur her on. “She is an athlete I admire very much,” Takanashi said of Hendrickson before the World Cup weekend in Sapporo. “I can try hard with her just being near me. I want her to come back soon.” Her bodyweight of 43 kgs (95 lbs) is seen as a positive for her performance as she is accurate in her inrun slide and quick in making her inflight posture after takeoff. “I could ride firmly in my position,” she said recalling her inrun for a jump of 98 metres which outdistanced rivals and earned her 127.5 points in the first round. The score included 54.0 points for style, also the best among the day’s 40 jumpers.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Winter Olympic delegation was urged Monday to demonstrate the country’s “energy” and aim for its best ever medal haul as they readied to leave for the Games in Sochi. About 100 Japanese athletes so far selected for Sochi gathered at a plush hotel in Tokyo for a ceremony to launch the delegation, expected to swell into Japan’s biggest ever Winter Olympic expedition with additional entries. “I wish you all to show the people of the world through the Olympics how Japan is filled with energy and how Japan is filled with pride in the world,” Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunekazu Takeda told the ceremony. He said his organisation had invited 15 junior high school students from the region hit by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, to help prepare and encourage them for future challenges.

Takeda also recalled that Japan captured a record haul of 38 medals at the 2012 London Olympics, a tally that helped Tokyo win the bid for the 2020 Summer Games against Madrid and Istanbul last September. “We have realised through the Olympics the power of sport and the energy gained from sport,” he said. Takeda added that he hoped the Sochi delegation would perform its best and give “strong encouragement” to the whole country as it looks forward to the 2020 Olympics. Japan’s chef de mission in Sochi, former Olympic speedskater and cyclist Seiko Hashimoto, is aiming for a record medal haul in Sochi. She hopes to better the medal haul won at the 1998 home Winter Games in Nagano of 10 medals, including five gold. “It is my duty to believe in the abilities of the athletes and build up a support system to help them go for their goals,” she told a news conference after the ceremony and a send-off event attended by 1,800 guests including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who plans to attend the Sochi opening ceremony on Feb 7.

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