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Olympics: Teen star Takanashi aims to lead Japan to glory

Japanese teen ski jumping star Sara Takanashi raring to go in Sochi as she seeks a historic first gold in the discipline on a hill she knows well.

SOCHI, Russia: Japanese teen ski jumping star Sara Takanashi was raring to go Tuesday, as she seeks a historic first gold in the discipline on a hill she knows well.

The 17-year-old wonder has dominated the World Cup over the past two seasons, never finishing off the podium since February 2013.

All sights are now on her to nab gold in Sochi and the young jumper -- who already tasted Olympic victory in 2012, but at Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria -- was aware of her role as flag-bearer for ski jumping's sole non-European powerhouse.

"I want to lead the way... I want to start the competitions as soon as possible," Takanashi told journalists on Tuesday, a week before women's ski jumping makes its Olympic debut in Russia.

"Of course I hope I will get a gold medal. But before I get one I will have to work hard and there are a lot of things I have to do for that."

"This is my third time here," added the reigning World Cup winner, who finished second and third on her two previous forays on this hill in December 2012.

"I will perform at the same level and I hope I will manage and show the best result."

Among Japan's eight-strong ski jumping team, veteran Noriaki Kasai -- the first athlete to participate in seven Winter Olympics -- and Taku Takeuchi look the strongest to climb on the podium as competitions begin Sunday at the Gorki jumping centre.

"I'm 41, it's my seventh time at Olympics and of course I'm going to try to get my eighth medal (at Olympics and world championships)," Kasai told journalists.

"Of course, there is a doubt whether I will win, I think it's 50/50," said the Japanese, who dazzled at the ski flying event in Tauplitz last month in his first World Cup win in 10 years.

But he added confidently: "I'm certain I can compete for a medal."

Just arrived in the Black Sea resort after competing in Germany over the weekend, he admitted the recuperation period was brief.

"I don't feel tired but we'll have to have a rest and do our best at the competitions."

For Takeuchi, past results in Sochi were cause for confidence.

"I heard that the slope in Sochi is similar to the one in Almaty, Kazakhstan. That hill left a good impression so I hope my impressions will be as good this time."

Almaty was the site of his last individual win, in the Grand Prix in September 2012.

More than just medals, the ski jumping team will be competing for better recognition in a country where figure skating still holds precedence, he said.

"If we show good results we will not need to prove anything.

"By showing good results at these Olympics, we hope ski jumping will become more popular."

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