Masahiko Harada

February 09, 1998

Four years ago Japan's Masahiko Harada plummeted from the thrill
of victory to the agony of defeat faster than a Wide World of
Sports intro. The setting: Lysgardsbakkene Arena, the ski
jumping venue for the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Harada, then 25
and the normal hill world champion, stood atop the ramp, his
country's Rising Sun symbol painted on each cheek, and prepared
to make the leap that would give Japan its first ski jumping
gold medal since the 1972 Winter Games were held in Harada's
native Sapporo.

After seven jumps Japan held a seemingly insurmountable
55.1-point lead in the four-man team jumping event, in which
each man makes two leaps. Harada, who had soared 122 meters on
his first jump, was only moments from making his--and
Japan's--final effort. Before him stretched the 120-meter ramp;
in the distance, the picturesque Gudbrandsdalen Valley; and
beyond that, national hero status and a tax-free reward of 3
million yen ($29,000 U.S.) from the Japanese Olympic Committee
for his gold medal performance.

"Congratulations," said Jens Weissflog of then second-place
Germany, "on winning the gold medal."

"No, no," responded the normally effervescent Harada, "we must
wait."

Who knew he would wait four years?

Weissflog, the 1984 normal hill gold medalist, soared to the
longest jump of the competition, 135.5 meters. Harada, following
him, needed a leap of about 110 meters--which is like asking
Morten Andersen to kick an extra point--to secure the gold.
Instead, Harada sailed like the Titanic: His 97.5-meter jump was
the worst among anyone on the top eight teams and dropped Japan
to a silver medal.

Harada collapsed to the snow in grief. Then, true to the nature
that has earned him the nickname Happy Harada, he pulled himself
together. "In the past a well-raised Japanese would have to
commit hara-kiri after such a mistake," said Harada, who still
pocketed 2 million yen. "Today, nobody expects that of us. I
made a short jump, but I did not lose face. So why commit
hara-kiri?"

The intervening quadrennial has done little to dampen the blithe
spirit of Harada, who has won three of the first four World Cup
events this winter. After winning his first large hill world
championship last March in Trondheim, Norway, Harada told the
crowd, which had been pulling for a home team win, that he
wanted to celebrate "with a big party and lots of beer,"
provoking a chantfest of "Ha-ra-da! Ha-ra-da!"

If Harada can remain similarly relaxed before a home audience,
he will not fall on his face--nor have to entertain the notion
of falling on his sword.

--John Walters

COLOR PHOTO: HANS RAUCHENSTEINER [Masahiko Harada ski jumping]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)