Japan favored in team ski jumping at Sochi

Associated Press
Japan's Noriaki Kasai, left, celebrates winning the silver after the ski jumping large hill final at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Since team ski jumping on the large hill was added to the Winter Olympics program in 1988, it's been mostly a European affair — Austria, Finland and Germany have won it twice each. Japan managed gold once — when the country hosted the games in 1998 at Nagano.

But the Japanese skiers, led by large hill silver medalist Noriaki Kasai, look to be favorites — this time on the road — going into the team competition on Monday, the sport's final Olympic event at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center. Japanese ski jumpers filled four of the top 13 places in the large hill gold final on Saturday.

Here are five things to know about the teams vying for the eighth team ski jumping gold to be awarded at the Winter Olympics:

STOCH ON A MISSION: Normal and large hill gold medalist Kamil Stoch will attempt to become the second man to win three ski jumping gold medals at one Winter Olympics — after Matti Nykanen of Finland at Calgary in 1988— when he leads Poland into the team final. Three Polish jumpers finished in the top 15 and they are also considered a podium favorite. "There are a lot of teams which are on a similar level," Stoch said.

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER: Most definitely for Kasai, the 41-year-old Japanese legend who likes to golf, fish and collect wine. He still hasn't got an individual Olympic gold — and that won't change even if the Japanese finish first on Monday. But Kasai says he'll be back in South Korea in 2018 to try again at age 45. Stoch, 26, who narrowly beat Kasai on the large hill, doesn't plan on staying in the sport that long. "I hope in 15 years I will be lying on some nice beach and enjoying my retirement," he said.

TWO-SPORT EVGENIY: Nordic combined athlete Evgeniy Klimov was drafted provisionally into the Russian team for the final on the large hill, replacing the injured Mikhail Maksimochkin, who broke two ribs in a training fall on Wednesday and spent two nights in the hospital. Klimov was third in the ski jumping phase of the Nordic combined normal hill event last Wednesday, but was the slowest in the 10-kilometer cross-country race. However, when the Russian team was named Monday for the final later in the day, Klimov was not among its four members.

THE FORMAT: There will be 12 four-man teams in the final, and the bottom four teams will be eliminated after one set of jumps. The remaining eight teams continue with another jump each, with the winner to be decided on total points. No points are thrown out, so the team is only as strong as its weakest member.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR RUSSKI?: The jumping facility in the hills above Krasnaya Polyana will become a training center for Russia's future ski jumpers. But RusSki will always hold a place in Olympic history: it hosted the first women's event — they joined the Olympic program 60 years after the men when Carina Vogt of Germany won normal hill gold on Feb. 11.

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