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Olympics: 8-time Olympian Kasai leads Japan's Pyeongchang campaign

Noriaki Kasai, of Japan, jumps during the men's normal hill individual ski jumping qualification round at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Kyodo) -- Noriaki Kasai made a record eighth Winter Olympic appearance on Thursday, qualifying for the men's ski jumping normal hill final by placing 20th at the Pyeongchang Games.

    Kasai, 45, soared for 98 meters and 117.7 points at Alpensia Ski Jumping Center as all four jumpers from Japan qualified for Saturday's final. Junshiro Kobayashi led the Japanese contingency with 118.4 (18th), while his younger brother Ryoyu was 21st (115.3).

    Daiki Ito was 31st with 106.0 as Germany's Andreas Wellinger topped the field with 133.5.

    The only eight-time Winter Olympian in history, Kasai, Japan's flagbearer for Friday's opening ceremony, appeared at ease as he booked his place for the weekend competition.

    "I thought my trial jump was better," Kasai said. "I got a little overexcited and I'm still not skiing consistently enough. I was anxious, but it was an improvement from yesterday."

    "I got some of my confidence back in the third jump at training yesterday, and you need to be confident to erase anxiety. It's starting to click for me, finally."

    Though he was all smiles Thursday, Kasai admitted the pressure of trying to make the Olympic team for an eighth time had gotten to him in the World Cup season preceding Pyeongchang, in which he finished no better than fifth.

    "It's been a huge load on my shoulders. But I'm here now, and I'm thrilled to be at the Olympics for the eighth time. I feel liberated now," Kasai said.

    "I'm looking forward to the opening ceremony. I told the others how much fun I had the last time and I think everyone but Junshiro is going now. It's a great opportunity to feed off other athletes in different sports."

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