Harada, Masahiko

Harada, Masahiko
▪ 1999

      On Feb. 17, 1998, 15,000 jubilant spectators jammed Central Square in Nagano, Japan, to witness the medal ceremony in which the members of Japan's Olympic ski-jumping team received gold medals. Fans had witnessed the Japanese team's failure four years earlier at the Winter Games at Lillehammer, Nor., when the celebrated Masahiko ("Happy") Harada, needing to jump only a little more than 100 m (1 m = 3.3 ft) to secure the win, launched prematurely and completed the shortest jump of the competition—97.5 m—and thereby handed first place to Germany. After that disappointing jump Harada's inconsistency became well known, and so, although Japan entered the 1998 Games as a heavy favourite in team ski jumping, an entire country seemed to be letting out a collective sigh of relief as the medals were awarded.

      Harada was born May 9, 1968, in Kamikawa, Japan. He became a national hero when he took first place in the normal-hill jump at the 1993 world championships. The following year as Japan appeared poised to take its first gold in ski jumping since the 1972 Games at Sapporo, Japan, his failure at Lillehammer caused the man nicknamed "Happy" to become best known for collapsing in the snow in tears. Harada's misfortune carried over into the 1995 season, and he finished 59th overall in the World Cup competition. In 1996 he began to return to the form that had brought him acclaim in 1993. With four wins in World Cup events, he finished fifth overall for the season. He continued to excel in 1997. Leading up to the Nagano Winter Games, Harada performed as though he meant to erase what had happened at Lillehammer and bring gold to Japan. In an Olympic warm-up meet in Sapporo held on the course used in the 1972 Games, he set a course record with a jump of 140.5 m and won the event.

      Harada seemed to return to 1994 form during his two individual events at Nagano. In the 90-m competition he led the field after the first of two jumps, but a poor showing on the second dropped him to fifth place. His first jump in the 120-m left him in sixth place and all but eliminated any hope of a medal. Then his fortune changed. With nothing to lose on his final jump, Harada sailed 136 m—by far the longest distance in that event—and won the bronze.

      In the team competition Harada hit rock bottom again, posting a 79.5-m performance, one of the worst of the competition, on his first jump. His second effort, for 137 m, matched the best mark of the team event, and Japan went on to win the gold. Soon after the contest ended, Harada once again broke down into tears. This time, however, Happy Harada was truly just that.


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Universalium. 2010.

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