February 5, 1998
Austrian Widhoelzl wins World Cup large hill meet
Widhoelzl flew 134 and 132 meters at the 120-meter Okurayama hill, site of the 1972 Sapporo Olympics, to collect a winning total of 283.8 points for his second World Cup victory of the season and third overall.
Finland's Jani Soininen and Janne Ahonen, considered among the strongest Olympic gold medal contenders, followed in second and third place in front of Japan's Akira Higashi in fourth and World Cup points leader Kazuyoshi Funaki in sixth.
Soininen had solid jumps of 129.5 and 128 meters for 264.0 points while Ahonen gained 258.1 after traveling 133 and 119 meters in swirling winds that victimized some of the top jumpers including local favorite Masahiko Harada and Hiroya Saito.
Harada, going into Thursday's meet in second place in the World Cup rankings, was caught off balance just after the takeoff in strong side winds and touched down after only 66 meters.
He wound up at the bottom of the 49-man field and missed out on a berth in the second round of jumps.
Soininen, commenting on the quickly changing winds, said, ''This is the seventh time I jumped here (at Okurayama), but every time I feel frustration about the wind changes.''
The results were a major disappointment for Japan's Nagano Olympic squad as Saito, Takanobu Okabe and Noriaki Kasai also failed to advance to the second round.
The Japanese are heavy favorites in the team competition in Nagano as well as the individual events at the Winter Games opening Saturday in central Japan.
Olympic ski jumping begins with the normal hill event Feb. 11, followed by the large hill competition four days later. The team event will be held on the large hill Feb. 17.
Winds are also capricious at both the normal and large hill ramps in the ski resort village of Hakuba, the site of the Olympic ski jumping competition as well as a number of Alpine and Nordic events.
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Copyright 1998 The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun