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Finn Wins Gold in 90-Meter Ski Jump

Associated Press
Tuesday, February 10, 1998; 11:05 p.m. EST

Jani Soininen of Finland
Jani Soininen of Finland won the 90-meter ski jump gold medal in an unexpected triumph (Joe Cavaretta/AP)

HAKUBA, Japan — With the emperor's son and a crowd of 65,000 expectant fans watching, Japan's Masahiko Harada squandered his chance of glory for the second Olympics in a row.

Jani Soininen of Finland won the 90-meter ski jump gold medal in an unexpected triumph on what had looked like a perfect day for the Japanese.

In windless conditions under blue skies Wednesday (Tuesday night EST), Soininen came up with a jump of 89 meters in the second round for a total score of 234.5.

Going last, Harada, who led the first round with marks of 121, needed nothing special to capture the gold. After pausing for a minute on the takeoff slope, he came up with a poor jump of 84.5 meters.

His right ski wobbled in flight and he struggled to maintain stability in the air. He came up with a total score of 228.5, good enough only for fifth place.

While Harada, the large-hill world champion last year, came up with a wry smile of accepted defeat before the stunned crowd, a joyful Soininen was hoisted into the air by countryman Janne Ahonen, who placed fourth.

Four years ago in Lillehammer, Harada needed only a mediocre jump to secure the team gold medal for Japan. Instead, he recorded a poor jump in the final round that gave the gold to Germany.

"I couldn't score as much as I expected,'' Harada said. "I was relaxed, but maybe I became nervous, but I am disappointed because my target was to win the gold.''

Japan at least won the silver medal. Kazuyoshi Funaki, who won the Four Hills competition in December and January, made a second-round leap of 90.5 for a total of 233.5.

Austria's Andreas Widhoelzl won the bronze ahead of Ahonen after a leap of 90.5 gave him a total score of 232.5. Ahonen had 231.5 after the best leap of the second round, 91.5 meters.

Harada said he would now try to concentrate on the 120-meter competition.

"How disappointing was it? Well, I'll try to make it in the large hill,'' he said.

For four years, Harada has carried the burden of failure after his incredible collapse in Lillehammer in the 120-meter team competition.

His country was in position to claim the team gold at Lillehammer, needing only one final routine jump from Harada, the world champion. His first jump had been 122 meters, well beyond the 105 he needed to clinch the gold.

As Harada prepared for the clinching jump, Jens Weissflog of Germany, the 120-meter gold medalist, congratulated him on the obvious Japanese victory. In an instant, however, that gold turned to silver when Harada took off too early and produced the shortest jump in the competition, a mere 97.5 meters.

Harada blamed only himself, and affected him for two years. He did not begin to regain his form until 1996, but by last year he was the world champion at 120 meters and second at 90 meters.

Before Wednesday's second round started, the omens for a repeat of the 1972 Japanese sweep at the Sapporo Olympics were good. Even the 1972 gold medalist, Yukio Kasaya, was one of the five judges although his scoring appeared immaculately fair.

And, with three Japanese in the top five from the first round, the sweep looked a strong possibility.

But the crowd — many waving Japanese flags or wearing small versions of it on headbands — was left to cheer only a silver medal finish after the second consecutive Olympic failure by Harada.

"Let's hope he redeems himself in the large hill,'' said Hiroyuki Miyamoto, a 34-year-old construction worker.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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