Japan's teen ski jumping star Takanashi eyes Sochi gold

Japan's teenage ski jumping star Sara Takanashi is targeting a strong performance at February's world championships to help her bid to win an Olympic gold in Sochi next year.

The diminutive 16-year-old, who is 1.51m tall, will be jumping at Sapporo this weekend when the World Cup returns to Japan, having last week defended her title at the Nordic Junior World Ski Championships in the Czech resort of Liberec.

Her next target is the senior world championships in Italy on February 24 with one eye on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Russia from February 7-24 next year.

With four victories already to her name this season, the Japanese teenager is leading the senior women's World Cup standings with a 169-point lead over American Sarah Hendrickson at the halfway stage of the 16-event season.

The teenager wants to add Sochi gold having won the girl's ski jump title at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, last year.

"This year I want to do the maximum to remain among the best competitors in the World Cup and I would also like to get a good result at the World Championship in Val di Fiemme," she said.

"The Olympics in Sochi are my big goal.

"To fulfil my dream of a gold medal would be a huge success, but I will be glad about any position near the forefront of the result list."

Having burst into tears at hearing the Japanese national anthem in Liberec, she admitted feeling under pressure to defend the junior title she won at the 2012 Junior World Championships in Erzurum, Turkey.

"I think defending a title is more difficult than winning it," she said.

"When I came to a competition in 2011, nobody expected any great results from me. Now it is different."

Having started ski jump training when she was eight, Takanashi is winning plenty of attention for the women's sport in Japan, where ski jumping is traditionally a male domain.

"It is true that Japanese men love ski jumping, mainly due to the famous names like Noriaki Kasai and Daiki Ito," she said.

"I do think though, that maybe even because of my success, the popularity of women's ski jumping is increasing and slowly nearing the men's."

With a tradition of ski jumping in her family and her four-year-old brother is already showing interest in the sport.

"Ski jumping was a clear choice for me and I decided to go into it myself," she explained.

"I come from a ski jumping family where just about everyone has done ski jumping. My brother is four now and he is also starting to eye the jumping skis."

Takanashi says her role model is her American rival Hendrickson, who is only 18.

"But I will not lie. It feels really strange competing with her and even managing to beat her sometimes," added Takanashi.

Japan's Sara Takanashi, pictured during the Women's Ski Jumping World Cup, in Hinterzarten, southern Germany, on January 13, 2013. Takanashi is targeting a strong performance at February's world championships to help her bid to win an Olympic gold in Sochi next year.

Japan's Sara Takanashi competes in the Women's Ski Jumping World Cup in Hinterzarten, southern Germany, on January 12, 2013. The diminutive 16-year-old, who is 1.51m tall, will be jumping at Sapporo this weekend when the World Cup returns to Japan.