Expericence personified - Taking stock in Japan
In a new edition of "Taking Stock" it is time to extend our view to the Far East. Though the object of focus, Team Japan, cannot really be counted among the truly "small" teams of the World Cup, we nevertheless like to offer some views behind the scenes of Nordic Combined in the land of the rising sun. Fisnc.com spoke to head coach Takanori Kohno about the working situation in his team, this athletes and how he and his team probably collect a massive amount of flight miles while preparing for the new season between Japan and Europe.
Though the financial situation of Team Japan is not so dire as in other nations, the team around head coach Kohno still has to deal with certain limitations. "Right after the FIS Congress in Korea, we wanted to do a training camp in Hakuba but we had already spent our complete budget from the last season. So, all the trainers and athletes paid for the first 8 training days of the season themselves." After that, the team received a special budget from the Japanese Ski Association to pay for the next training camp at the beginning of July, again on their home hills in Hakuba. "We also spent two days in Tokio at the Japanese Institute of Sport Science, doing medical checkups and performance diagnostics", Kohno explains.
After the first test on the new Olympic venues in Sochi during the Summer Grand Prix which the Japanese attended with five athletes, another training camp on the Olympic hills in Sapporo was in order. Kohno's team, which is well used to traveling a lot between Europe and Japan, also took part in the rest of the Summer Grand Prix followed by an extended training camp in Europe at the end of September. "We spent six training days in Oberstdorf, then went on to Oberhof to train on snow in the indoor skiing facility. Of course, we also had to get some practice on the World Championship hills in Predazzo and then we always like to spend time in Ramsau as well, this time 8 training days", Kohno gives details about his team's whereabouts over the summer. But no rest for the weary: After spending a brief time at home, the Japanse will be off to another training camp in Hakuba followed by the departure for Finland at the beginning of November. "Usually, you can already train on snow in Vuokatti during that time. After that, we go to Lillehammer around the 15th of November."
"We definitely want medals this year!"
With a preparation program like this, the goals for the new season are set high. Kohno: "We definitely want medals at the World Championships this year! For the overall World Cup, we don't have a set goal but it would be nice to get a quota of six athletes for the World Cup. That might be a goal."
To achieve this, Kohno can rely on a service and coaching team which is rich in experience. "Our service man has been working for the Japanese team since 1992, so this is his 22nd season right now. We also have a Finnish massage therapist who also knows how to do acupuncture. He has been with us since 1995 and is also working as a second service man which makes him a very important person for our team. He's basically working day and night", Kohno laughs. In addition to that, Kohno is working together with jumping coach Kazuyoshi Yamada who has been a Nordic Combined athlete in the B World Cup himself. The B-Team is coached by Kohno's teammate from the '94 Olympics, Abe Masaharu and Assistant Coach Gen Tomii.
Olympic medalist Takanori Kohno's way to become head coach was as interesting as the setup of his current team. After ending his career, he immediately started learning German and also went to Germany to deepen his knowledge of the language. In 1996, Kohno got a position at the coaches' academy to acquire his coaching license. After returning to Japan, he first worked as a clerk in the municipal office of his hometown. "But actually, I haven't been doing anything! As a public officer should", Kohno laughs. "It got much better when I accepted a position in the Japanese Ski Federation and started working with the C-Team and Juniors." He worked his way up the ranks and since 2007, Takanori Kohno is Japanese head coach.
Japanese athletes on the rise
Why the Japanese teams are suddenly on the rise again in all disciplines, Ski Jumping, Ladies Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined, Kohno cannot really say. "It's really hard to explain. But I've noticed over the years that every time the ski jumpers are good, we are good, too. Or it's the other way round, I don't know" (laughs).
Asked after his team, Kohno jokes: "All of them are very quiet. I don't know much about my athletes!" Next to his team leader Akito Watabe, Kohno's team consists of Taihei Kato, Yusuke Minato, Hideaki Nagai and Akito Watabe's brother Yoshito. "Taihei Kato is kind of the spokesperson of the team. If an athlete has a problem, he's usually the one who comes up to us coaches and talks about it. Yusuke Minato is really quiet, he seldom speaks at all. Hideaki Nagai came into the A-Team because he won a national competition in Japan, qualified for the Continental Cup and instantly got points there. He is a very interesting guy.", Kohno sums up. "Yoshito Watabe has a lot of talent and could probably also become a ski jumper if he wanted, he has that much power at the takeoff." Right now, his job is improving his cross-country shape but coach Kohno sees him on a good way. Just as Team Japan on the whole. They will definitely be athletes to watch during the upcoming winters.