January 21, 2019
London--Following are excerpts from a Jiji Press interview with Japanese ski jumping star Ryoyu Kobayashi held in the Italian ski resort of Val di Fiemme on Jan. 10:
Question: You won the overall Four Hills Tournament title with a grand slam. Soon after the victory, you said, "It doesn't feel real." How about now? Are you starting to feel it?
Kobayashi: Well, people talk to me wherever I go and call me "champ!" I hear people say, "Who is Kobayashi?" That's when I realize that I've won the tournament. I enjoyed the tournament as I made big jumps on all of the four hills. It was good.
Q: You won the first two events, in Oberstdorf and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, by narrow margins. You could have lost the events, depending on wind conditions. But you were very competitive.
A: Yes, very close wins. I was helped by wind factors.
Q: Do you think you have something special?
A: At Garmisch-Partenkirchen, I was behind the runner-up in terms of jumping distance, but I won. This could have been impossible before. Wind and gate factors were introduced, which led me to win all four events.
Q: Was your performance affected by the left knee injury you suffered in summer last year?
A: I thought the pain would never go away completely. It'll be okay if I get on with it.
Q: How about the knee condition?
A: It's inflamed, so I hope to keep jumping while getting enough care.
Q: This season, you took the podium in the World Cup opener and won the second event, your first World Cup event victory. Last season or before, could you imagine your current impressive performances?
A: No, not at all.
Q: This season, you've won eight of 11 World Cup events (as of Jan. 6).
A: Looking back, that was really great. But I have no special feeling of satisfaction, as I don't think much about the future or the past.
Q: Are you afraid of having won too much?
A: I feel that a little bit, but I think that the time is good for me because I'm in good condition now.
Q: Why are you doing so great this season?
A: My jumping has reached a level completely different from that of last year, and I've also become stronger mentally. Previously, if I was in the top 10 on the first jump, my second jump was not good as I became nervous. This season, I've overcome that problem.
Q: You've had a lot of experience since you debuted in the World Cup in 2016. Has this been helpful to you?
A: Yes, it was of great help. I think I've grown as a ski jumper in my fourth World Cup season.
Q: Before the start of this season, you said winning one World Cup event was your goal. What is your goal now?
A: No change at all. I still aim to win the very next event.
Q: How confident are you about breaking Peter Prevc's record 15 wins in a single World Cup season?
A: I absolutely have no confidence. (laughs) I think I have some chance, but I'm trying not to think much about it.
Q: How about an overall World Cup title this season?
A: Well, I'm closest to the overall victory. It's all right if I can continue making big jumps without getting injuries.
Q: Do you have any big goal or dream as a ski jumper?
A: To become an athlete with great presence, like football superstar Neymar, baseball sensation Shohei Ohtani and renowned Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton is a dream in my whole life. But ski jumping isn't so popular in Japan. In Poland, for example, there is a great jumper, Kamil Stoch.
Q: How was the Pyeongchang Olympics?
A: Competing at the Olympic Games had been my dream since I was a kid although I'd been unable to picture it at all. Winning gold is a goal for me, of course.
Q: How old were you when you started ski jumping? What led you to start the sport?
A: When I was around three years old, there was snow in front of my house, and there were skis for kids. So I put them on. As my older brother was jumping from a ski jump slope that he made, I started jumping with him.
Q: Do you remember how you felt when you jumped for the first time?
A: No. I don't remember at all. But there is a video of me jumping at the age of about five. I started wearing skis for jumping in a full-fledged manner when I was a third-grader.
Q: Has there been any turning point in your career? Have you ever suffered any setback or thought about quitting?
A: Two years ago, I could not get even one World Cup point throughout the season. I learned how high the world level was, and how difficult it was to achieve good results in the World Cup.
Q: At that time, were you able to think that you should keep going?
A: No. Honestly, I thought I couldn't make it.
Q: But you've continued. Did you receive any encouragement from people around you?
A: I realized that jumping was fun after all. I thought this way many times during the season even though I couldn't achieve good results. That's why I never thought about quitting.
Q: Your father is a coach of cross-country skiing.
A: He was a demanding father. I often got scolded. I don't know if I've become a respectable man, but I'm thankful that I grew up.
Q: What's your personality like?
A: I'm not sure about that. (laughs) I may tend to do things in my own ways.
Q: Do you hate to lose?
A: Yes. I became that way after joining the Tsuchiya Home team and saw how coach (Noriaki) Kasai is like. He really hates to lose. (laughs) In rivalry with him, I've competing with a mentality of never losing.
Q: Kasai is a ski jumper from the time before you were born. What was your childhood image of him?
A: I didn't grow up watching ski jumping very much, and I have few memories of the Olympics other than the 2010 Vancouver Games. We don't have many opportunities (in Japan) to watch ski jumping World Cup events. I came to realize his greatness in my junior or senior high school days. I rarely saw him in competitions because he was usually away from Japan. My impression was that he was fighting at a level far beyond my reach.
Q: He's your coach and also your rival. What does he mean to you?
A: He's a great jumper, particularly when everything comes together. He is a rival, and of course, I respect him.
Q: Do you think he's a legend?
A: He has great athletic ability, moving like someone in his 20s or 30s. I beat him for stamina and explosiveness now, but I get thrashed when we play volleyball or tennis. (laughs)
Q: I hear he told you something two seasons ago when you failed to win a single World Cup point.
A: "Zero point, uncool," he said. Indeed I was. (laughs) I felt disappointed. I guess there hadn't been anybody (among Japanese jumpers) that participated in competitions through a season and ended up without earning a single point, and there will not be again. Usually, such a person is sent back to Japan for training.
Q: Kasai is 46. Can you imagine yourself taking part in competitions until that age?
A: I can't. I don't have much confidence either.
Q: How old do you want to compete until?
A: Past 40 or so, if possible.
Q: Do you drink with him?
A: Yes. I don't change much when I get drunk, nor does he. He's fun. Jiji Press
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