Home » Noriaki Kasai is 51 years old – the Japanese just keeps flying

Noriaki Kasai is 51 years old – the Japanese just keeps flying

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Noriaki Kasai is 51 years old – the Japanese just keeps flying

Noriaki Kasai makes an amazing return to the World Cup in his home country. The Japanese shares more than just the last victory with Simon Ammann.

Considered a flying legend in Japan: 51-year-old Noriaki Kasai.

Naoki Morita / Imago

Noriaki Kasai had to grin when he was asked this question, which seemed obvious but still sounded impudent. The reporter from the Austrian broadcaster ORF wanted to know from Kasai whether this was his last time. The ski jumper waved his hand: “I guess I’ll keep jumping until I’m 65.” What the thin man had said – and how he had said it – seemed like a joke. But just a moment later you suspected: he could be serious.

The 2026 Olympics are Kasai’s goal

Noriaki Kasai is already a great improbability in the sport. The Japanese has reached the almost biblical age of 51 in professional business. At the weekend he celebrated his comeback after five years at the World Cup jumping in Sapporo, Japan, and scored a point for the first time. And Kasai has already made it clear that he wasn’t just interested in this one World Cup point: his goal is to qualify for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina. He would then be 55. And it would only be ten more years until he was 65.

Next to him, the other young-at-heart ski jumper, who also caused a stir in Sapporo, appears almost youthful: the Swiss Simon Ammann, whose four Olympic gold medals were 14 to 22 years ago, is also 42 years old. However, only Kasai made it into the World Cup points once at the competitions in Sapporo. But the two weren’t celebrated anyway because of their chances of winning. The Slovenian Domen Prevc secured it on Sunday ahead of the Japanese Ryoyu Kobayashi, who was considered the favorite.

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But Simon Ammann and especially Noriaki Kasai seemed more spectacular on this occasion. The ORF journalist on site wanted to know what her secret was to her seemingly eternal youth. Kasai shrugged his shoulders along the lines of: “Oh, I don’t look that young anymore!” His companion Ammann explained: “We have to pay attention to our diet, but of course that’s no secret. Plus the fresh air and a lot of excitement in sports.” The two of them had a lot of the latter in their careers.

Triumphed together in Ruka in 2014: Simon Ammann and Noriaki Kasai.

Youtube

Ten years ago, the Swiss and the Japanese stood together on the winner’s podium, and to date they have both completed more than 500 World Cup competitions. The reporting in Japan also focused on this. “The internet celebrates him as a legend,” was the headline in the Chuunichi Shimbun newspaper about Kasai at the beginning of the week. “Nikkan Sports” said: “Japan’s first jumper over 50 is always just looking at the next jump.” And the leading news agency Kyodo hardly mentioned Kobayashi’s second place as prominently as Kasai’s participation, who has long been the record holder with his 570th start: “It was huge that I was able to win a point,” Kasai was quoted as saying. And: “The last one was a while ago.”

In fact, many in Japan had already written him off. Kasai has long been referred to as a “pterosaur”. His career began in 1988, when Berlin was still divided by a wall and most of his current competitors were not yet born. In 1992 Kasai became world champion in ski flying, his first silver medal at the Olympic Games, in Lillehammer in 1994, came two years before the birth of Japan’s current ski jumping star Ryoyu Kobayashi. The former German national coach Werner Schuster characterized Kasai’s work as “cross-generational”. After all, he himself once jumped against Kasai, who then competed against Schuster’s son Jonas in 2023.

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They are the two oldies in ski jumping: the 42-year-old Swiss Simon Ammann (left) and the 51-year-old Japanese Noriaki Kasai (right).

Naoki Morita / Imago

Recently, Kasai’s historically long career seemed to inevitably come to an end. After setting another record in 2018 when he became the first winter athlete to take part in eight Olympic Games, he missed qualifying for Beijing 2022. Kasai said at the time, half jokingly, half defiantly: “Then just four years later.”

This man, who is better known in Japan as an eternal ski jumping madman than as a great athlete with many titles, actually didn’t give up: in 2023 he competed in jumping in the second-class Continental Cup, initially without success. A year later he made it back into the World Cup.

But Kasai has to constantly reassert his status as a very old star. Because in the Japanese sports world, Kasai is by no means the only oldie who just doesn’t seem to stop. The footballer Kazuyoshi Miura, who turns 56 at the end of this month, is probably even better known than the ski jumper. A few years ago, Miura, who is considered the template for the world-famous football manga “Captain Tsubasa” (in German: “The Great Football Stars”), seemingly ended his professional career when he moved to a lower Japanese league. But a little later, the former international surprised his country and the world again and signed a contract in the Portuguese second division.

Makoto Hasebe has written a book about healthy aging

In addition, Makoto Hasebe appears almost very young. He also once led Japan’s national football team. At 40, Hasebe is the oldest active player in the German Bundesliga, although the Frankfurt Eintracht defender is only used sporadically. Hasebe has already prepared for his career after professional football: he has written a book about healthy aging. It became a bestseller in Japan, with its rapidly aging society.

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Noriaki Kasai is still missing this dimension that goes beyond sport. He is best known for always wanting to jump ahead and refute the fact of aging. This poses risks, especially in ski jumping. Especially since it is known that Kasai’s knees have been hurting in the run-up lane for a long time, so that he only squats down, grinding his teeth.

Even if Noriaki Kasai were to continue until he reached the age of 65, he would likely be denied a record: he will hardly be able to compete against his grandson. Kasai became a father late, which is not unusual for Japanese people today. When his son was born, he was already 47.

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