A well-worn Japanese cliche says a beast is lurking within the biggest sporting stages ready to ravage mentally weak athletes. On Sunday at the Beijing Olympics, Ryoyu Kobayashi said he became that beast.
After winning his first Olympic gold medal on the normal hill, large hill specialist Kobayashi was in a playful frame of mind, telling reporters, "I might be the beast of these Olympics."
The 25-year-old defied the pressure of high expectations that came with his World Cup-leading seven wins this season, converting that success to gold at the National Ski Jumping Centre in Zhangjiakou.
His Olympic success came after missing the top five just once in his 16 events this season and averaging an impressive 2.75 finishing position overall.
"I had the confidence that I have been delivering performances that allow me to aim for a podium at the games," Kobayashi said in a post-event interview. "So it was good that I was able to believe in myself."
He said he skipped his trial round as he already had "a good visualization" of what it would be like to execute his jump.
He was then the only jumper not to get a wind advantage in either of his jumps among his closest competitors, but again that mattered little to the Iwate Prefecture-born star.
In the four years since the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, Kobayashi has racked up an impressive 26 World Cup wins and established himself as a standard-setter.
But he had yet to prove anything on the Olympic stage, and in a sport in which the competitors are often at the mercy of the conditions, he was assured of nothing.
At the 2019 world championships, he led the normal hill event after the first jump only to plummet to 14th in heavy snowfall. In the large hill at the 2021 worlds, he fell on landing in the final.
Reflecting on the past four years, Kobayashi said the seventh place in the Pyeongchang Games made him understand his shortcomings.
"The big performance I was able to deliver today reminded me that it helped me grow," Kobayashi said. With an Olympic gold medal now added to his collection, he has erased the painful memories of the past.
The date of his achievement is also significant, coming exactly 50 years after Japan dominated the Sapporo Olympic ski jumping podium headed by gold medalist Yukio Kasaya.
Kobayashi, however, has more business to attend to and may need to again harness the beast if he is to successfully pursue large-hill gold and a place in ski jumping lore.