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Youngest world champion Takanashi soars like a bird


Sara Takanashi jumped 89.5 meters at her first jump, and won the overall ski jump
World Cup championship on Feb. 17 in Ljubno, Slovenia. (Hiroki Endo)


With ski jumping running in her family, it was only natural for young Sara Takanashi to brave the daunting starting ramp high up the mountain and see how far she could soar before landing.

Takanashi's father, Hironari Takanashi, was formerly an active sky jumper. Her brother, four years older than Sara, is also a ski jumper, and her friends were trying the sport.

So, she made her first jump when she was an elementary school second-grader.

I was frightened at first, but once I jumped, I found it was fun, she said. It is just like being a bird.

Today, Sara Takanashi does resemble a bird when she takes off, soaring far down the hill on her jumps before landing, easily exceeding her fellow competitors.

At 16, she clinched the overall championship title of the women's ski jump World Cup on Feb. 17 in Ljubno, Slovenia, the youngest overall ski World Cup champion ever. She is also the first Japanese overall Nordic ski jump World Cup champion.The triumph in the normal hill event marked her eighth victory of the season.

I feel happier than ever, and (the overall victory) gives me confidence as well, said Takanashi, flashing an innocent smile.

The world's new ski jumping queen analyzed her character as one in which she can easily bring out her fighting spirit.

She graduated from junior high school last year, and entered Grace Mountain International School in Asahikawa, Hokkaido.

Takanashi thought of attending a Japanese high school that has a powerful ski jump team, but she finally chose to enroll in the international school.

I want to test myself about how far I can develop my skill in a more relaxed atmosphere, Takanashi explained.

Takanashi focused on her studies during her first four months at high school when the new semester began in April so she could focus on ski jumping later. She passed her high school equivalency test in August.

Before she passed the examination, Takanashi had to take the first train that leaves the station at 5:30 a.m. and study for two hours every morning.

She studied seven hours a day in all, Takanashi said.

But at home, she is just like any other normal teenager.

During the off season, I do whatever I want whenever I feel like it, said Takanashi. I want to sleep till noon, but I am usually told that I should not sleep too long and woken up.

However, once switched on by something, Takanashi is totally absorbed by it, such as ski jumping.

The diminutive teenager is only 152 cm tall, but her excellent sense of balance, which she developed through ballet lessons at an early age, enables her to achieve her overwhelming distances on her jumps.

Takanashi will participate in the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Italy on Feb. 22, and two more World Cup events are still left in the season.

For the time being, Takanashi cannot relax and rest on her already record-breaking achievements.

By Masaki KASAI. Ajw.asahi.com, 18.02.2013

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