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Japanese Rally to Win Team Jumping Event

By Robert Millward
Associated Press
Monday, February 16, 1998; 10:54 p.m. EST




 Kazuyoshi Funaki came up with a 125-meter leap to wrap up the gold for Japan in a see-saw contest in a heavy snowfall Tuesday. (Katsumi Kasahara/AP)
HAKUBA, Japan — Takanobu Okabe and Masahiko Harada soared to the longest jumps in Olympic history as Japan finally captured the team ski jumping gold it had failed to win four years ago in Lillehammer.

It was the eighth medal of the Nagano Games for Japan, the nation's biggest haul at a Winter Games.

The two jumpers reached 137 meters on the 120-meter hill. Then the 120 individual champion, Kazuyoshi Funaki, came up with a 125-meter leap to wrap up the gold in a see-saw contest in a heavy snowfall Tuesday (Monday night EST).

Japan totaled 933 points to win the title, and Germany, the defending titlist, wound up with the silver this time with 897.4. Austria's final jumper, Andreas Widhoelzl, soared to 136.5 to capture the bronze ahead of Norway.

For Harada, who wept uncontrollably at the end, it was sweet redemption.

The 29-year-old jumper should have clinched the gold at Lillehammer in 1994 but jumped far too short on the final round and handed the title to Germany.

"I did it! I did it!'' he said between sobs.

"All four of us worked together,'' he added, barely able to talk as he struggled with his emotions. "It wasn't me. It was the whole team.

After Funaki landed his winning jump, he fell backward onto his skis and covered his face. His teammates, watching at the landing area, raced out and jumped on him in celebration.

The triumph sparked wild scenes of celebration from a horn-blowing crowd of about 50,000, which included the emperor's daughter, Norinomiya.

The title appeared to be slipping away from Japan after the first round when Harada, hampered by difficult wind conditions, managed only a leap of 79.5 meters in his first attempt. The Japanese team slipped to fourth behind Austria, Germany and Norway.

It was Okabe who brought Japan back with an amazing leap of 137 meters with his second-round jump. That beat the 136 meters Harada had jumped in Sunday's 120m individual event for the longest ever in Olympic history and put Japan in first place ahead of the Germans.

After Germany's Martin Schmitt threatened the Japanese lead with a jump of 126.5 meters, Hiroya Saito maintained the advantage with a leap of 124 although the Japanese were only 5.2 points ahead halfway through the second round.

Then came Harada's long-awaited moment of glory.

The 120m bronze medalist, weighed down with his flops of the past, powered down the slope and stayed aloft until the hill began to straighten out at 135 meters. Although he almost sat down on landing, his leap had to be hand-measured because it was so long and past the usual marker points. The crowd erupted when the scoreboard flashed: 137 meters.

Harada was already in tears as he was hugged by Okabe and Saito, and Japan increased its lead to 25 points with Funaki still to come.

After Widhoelzl's 136.5-meter leap guaranteed the Austrians a medal, Germany's Dieter Thoma had to come up with something record-breaking to deny the Japanese. He managed only 120 meters.

Funaki, probably the most consistent and reliable jumpers around and the World Cup leader, produced his usual immaculate style and his distance of 125 won the title by more than 35 points.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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