TOKYO (AP) — For a 17-year-old high school student, Japanese ski jumper Sara Takanashi is remarkably calm about carrying the gold medal aspirations of an entire nation at the Sochi Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee decided in April 2011 to add women's jumping to the Olympic program, and with her dominance of World Cup events this season, Takanashi will be the favorite to take the inaugural gold.
Japan didn't win any gold medals at the Vancouver Olympics so the heat is on the country's athletes to improve at Sochi but Takanashi keeps the expectations in perspective.
"I basically just try to enjoy every jump," Takanashi said after winning her eighth title at a World Cup meet in Zao, Japan, earlier this month. "I know the expectations are there but all I can do is prepare as best I can and enjoy each competition."
Takanashi, who started jumping in elementary school, finished second to 19-year-old Sarah Hendrickson of the United States at the 2013 world championships.
Hendrickson crashed in a training session five months ago, injuring her right knee but had surgery on Aug. 29, returned to jumping on Jan. 11 and was recently named to the U.S. team.
Having Hendrickson back changes things but Takanashi said she's not intimidated by the return of her biggest rival.
"I feel motivated even more now that she is back," Takanashi said of Hendrickson's return. "I'm looking forward to competing against her."
Takanashi has struggled with her Telemark landing in the past but seems to have improved that this season. With eight wins out of 11 events this season, Takanashi has 1,020 points in the overall standings for a 354-point lead over her closest rival Carina Vogt of Germany.