Feb. 17th, 2014
On Saturday to end a long day I went to see the large hill competition. Did not expect that much from it – and besides I felt I had gotten a decent picture of Janne Ahonen earlier – but just in case Anssi Koivuranta would do something I decided to go.
The working conditions are really hard over there (photo briefing 2 hours prior to competition, very limited where you can go, and after you have chosen your spot, quite often you cannont leave until the round/comptetion is over) so I was not really looking forward to a nice evening.
I had one picture in mind of Anssi and I did manage to get it in focus (the image above, shot with 600mm from around 100m distance).
He did great on the first round but not so great on the second. And I might have just left after that as it had been a loooo-ng day (silver in women’s relay) plus the next day would be even worse, I knew.
But thank God I decided to hang out and see how the competition would end as it turned out to be one great spectacle.
Not who won, but who became second.
Because it was Noriaki Kasai.
He is 41 years old and he was already with in the Alberville Olympics 1992. That is 22 years ago.
Let’s put it in perspective: the Berlin wall had barely been torn down, the Soviet Union was breaking and the Baltic states were becoming independent (I was covering those and I had not even thought about becoming a sports specialist…).
Photographers were still shooting film. Black and white film, for the most part. Hand souping it in the hotel rooms.
In the past years in numerous Vierschanzentournées and other competitions I have shot Noriaki. So much so that my journalist jokes every time we go to a competition “hey, we should do a small piece on your buddy Noriaki this year as well”. My students from last years workshop in Lahti Ski Games remember how we joked about that we should have a special folder on our website just for Noriaki Kasai, because for some weird reason all of them were getting great pictures of him.
There is something solemn about him.
Last year I remember talking with Janne Väätäinen, his coach in Ruka and he was saying how the Japanese way of thinking is different: that nobody thinks (including Noriaki) that he somehow should start thinking about retiring from the circus… No, he has earned his place and everybody will continue to support him as long as he wants to keep going.
I don’t know, I just somehow like this idea of “respect earned and then it is forever” -idea. So different of the cynical besserwisser writing and talk you see in abundance in our own culture. Think about Janne Ahonen: yes, he is truly great, but more often than not when you talk to people it is expressed how he WAS truly great…
Anyway. Noriaki jumped twice an amazing leap. So nobody can say it was wind conditions or a streak of luck. His second jump was about one meter longer than the winning one.
Hardly ever have I seen such pure joy on anybody’s face down at the bottom of the hill. The Japanese are not known for their extravagant expression of feelings, but it did not take much to see that he was the happiest man on earth.
And looking at his joy thru my lens I felt some of that happiness to rub off to me. After c. 14 hours of working on Saturday I was so pleased I had come to witness this. I did feel quite privileged – not tired anymore, but truly privileged.