Funaki Wins Ski Jumping for Japan
By Robert Millward
Saturday, February 14, 1998; 9:52 p.m. EST
HAKUBA, Japan Kazuyoshi Funaki unloaded a spectacular jump with perfect style marks to send 30,000 Japanese fans wild, winning the gold medal in the 120-meter ski jump and giving the host nation its first Winter Olympic triumph in the sport since Sapporo 1972.
After teammate Masahiko Harada had soared to a hill-record 136 meters to take the lead and Finland's Jani Soininen, winner of the 90m gold on Wednesday, replaced him, Funaki came up with 132.5, also better than the previous record, to total 272.3 and take the gold.
Soininen collected silver Sunday (Saturday night EST) with a leap of 126.5 and a total of 260.8, and Harada won the bronze after his monster leap, hindered by modest style marks, gained him 258.3.
It was a dramatic and confusing end to a thrilling competition.
Harada, jumping fifth from last after a relatively poor first round, soared so far it was difficult to measure the distance because there were no lines across the landing area at the point he hit the snow.
That meant no score went up on the scoreboard and the fans had no idea what his total was. When the medals ceremony was conducted after the race, Harada went to walk to the silver-medal position, convinced he had finished second, while the Finn stood in the bronze medal position.
After Harada's leap, still without a score, the competition continued and Funaki, going third from last, soared into the lead with his immaculate jump.
Only Soininen, Okabe and Austria's Andreas Widhoelzl, the first-round leader, could beat him.
The Japanese fans collectively held their breath as Soininen leaped 126.5, 6 meters short of Funaki's jump and they roared when his score went up, well down on Funaki's and surely, they thought, worse than Harada's.
Okabe came up with only 119.5 and a sixth-place score of 250.1, and then it was Widhoelzl's turn.
The Austrian, bronze medalist in the 90m, dropped well short and another roar went up from the Japanese fans. His jump of 120.5 was only enough for fourth place this time.
Funaki, the silver medalist in the 90m jump, and Harada hugged each other at the line but then came the realization that Harada had won only bronze.
"I made a mistake in the first jump,'' a tearful Harada said. "I needed 4 more meters. I couldn't do my best jumps. I was very disappointed.''
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
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