The “Comaneci” of Ski Jumping Gets The First Perfect 20s | Olympics on the Record

The Olympic Winter Games
in Nagano, Japan. The year – 1998. Japan’s best hope for
a gold medal lay in the ski jump, and the man to carry that
burden was 23-year-old Kazuyoshi
Funaki. It takes years of preparation
to reach the final of an Olympic ski jump event. For decades, ski jumpers had
been exploring the most effective way
to fly through the air. Funaki thought he had
the answer to that question. So what was his secret? To answer that question,
we need to take a look at the fascinating history
of this event. Ski jumping was the most
popular spectator sport at the 1952 Winter Olympic
Games in Oslo, Norway. A crowd of 143,000 people, half the entire population
of Oslo, turned up to see
local hero Arnfinn Bergmann win gold for Norway. Ski jumping is Norway’s
gift to the world. The sport was first introduced by a Norwegian soldier
called Olaf Rye. His party trick was jumping
9.5 metres on skis. That was in 1809. My hat. Oh. In 1952,
the sport had moved forward. Bergmann’s winning jump
reached 68 metres long. Bergmann makes his winning
jump, to give Norway her seventh
gold medal in the Games. Strength and technique
had taken the sport to another level. All you have to do is slide, glide and stay on your feet
if you can. In the ’60s, subtle changes
were made to the jumping style. The body straighter,
arms by the side. This was considered the correct
and proper way to ski jump. A great stylist of
the ’70s was Yukio Kasaya, the star of the 1972
Olympic Games in Sapporo. Kasaya was the first Japanese
to win Olympic gold. Style is important
in ski jumping because your final score is a mix of distance plus style
points. Five judges award
marks out of 20. They are looking for elegance
and smoothness, and a textbook “Telemark”
landing. A great jump is typically
matched with excellent style, but actual perfection
was unheard of. Judges always found fault –
that’s what they’re there for. Perhaps the most elegant and successful ski jumper
in history was Finland’s Matti Nykanen,
the first ski jumper to win three gold medals
in a single Olympic Games. Nykanen lifted the sport
to an art form. No-one could get close to him. His best jump at Calgary 1988
was nearly eight metres further than anyone else. One who tried to get close
was Czech Jiri Malec. Malec believed that spreading
his skis into a “V” shape, as you can see here, helped him achieve that
little bit of extra distance. Not enough to catch Nykanen, the perfect exponent
of the parallel technique, but enough to help Malec
win an Olympic bronze medal. Unfortunately, Malec’s success
was limited because judges preferred the clean lines
of the classical ski jumpers and the new V technique was
consistently marked down. And then it got scientific – a group of Japanese academics
studied the physics behind the ski jumping
technique. They crunched the numbers.
They worked out the formulas. Calculus, geometry,
trigonometry, and the result was clear – the V shape was the way to go. Ski jumpers could barely
switch quickly enough. By 1992 it was
the only way to fly and the judges had no choice but to adopt the new shape as the ideal
ski jumping technique. The 1998 Winter Olympics
in Nagano, Japan, took the V technique to
a new level. The big Japanese favourite
was Kazuyoshi Funaki, coached and mentored by
the legendary Kasaya. Using the modern style, Funaki had some of his
mentor’s elegance in the air. Having won silver
on the normal hill, Funaki’s hopes for gold
rested on the large hill. It was then he achieved
something never done before in the history of
Olympic ski jumping. Funaki made the perfect jump. 132.5 metres long. That’s nearly as far as
the Great Pyramids of Giza! All five judges gave
Funaki’s jump a perfect score, 20 out of 20. Style, elegance, landing –
they just couldn’t find fault. A perfect score like this
has the same odds as getting a bull’s-eye
blindfolded, with both hands tied
behind your back. Steady skis – tick, balance – tick, body position – tick, landing – tick. The jump was enough
to win Funaki gold in front of his home fans in
Japan. His extraordinary jump that day
remains the only perfect mark in Olympic history.

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