Had the nightmare returned? Gold medal on the line, and Masahiko Harada flops again?
Not this time. He had a second chance and he grabbed it, uncorking a record-breaking jump and helping Japan to a historic first.Then the 29-year-old Harada unleashed a roar that might have been heard all the way to his native island of Hokkaido to the north.
"I did it! I did it!" he exclaimed, before breaking down in tears.
Harada had his redemption, and Japan had its gold medal in the team large hill event today, before a horn-blowing, flag-waving crowd of 50,000.
It would have been theirs four years ago in Lillehammer, except that Harada caved under pressure. With Japan in the lead and Harada last to jump, he needed to go a modest 105 meters. He landed only 97.5, and Germany edged Japan for the gold.
Today, Harada's first jump was a disaster, caused more by nature's cruel twists than his own shortcomings. Just as he was about to roar down the ramp, the wind changed and the snow picked up, slowing his velocity. Visibility so poor he could hardly see the bottom of the hill.
Harada took off as if he had lead in his pockets and landed with a thud - at 79.5 meters.
At the end of the first series, Japan was fourth, behind Austria, Germany and Norway, and the 10-year dream of a gold medal seemed to be slipping away.
But Takanobu Okabe got Japan back into contention by soaring 137 meters, the longest jump in Olympic history.
Hiroya Saito had 124 to keep Japan in the battle.
Then came Harada.
"I was very much concerned that it would happen again," Harada said, referring to Lille-hammer. "The only thing I had in mind was to jump as long as possible."
And he did - another 137 meters to share the record with Okabe.
"I had a lot of difficulty in the first jump with the heavy snow, visibility and the slow speed," he said.
Harada was not the last jumper for Japan this time. The home nation secured the gold when Kazu-yoshi Funaki calmly flew 125 meters, unspectacular in distance but nearly immaculate in style.
Funaki, whose coolness can make him seem almost arrogant at times, could readily identify with the great burden the more emotional Harada had carried on his shoulders in Lillehammer.
"Now I know how Harada felt in the last Olympics," said Funaki, 22. "I felt enormous pressure on my entire body, really. I was overwhelmed. But the result was the gold. It's great."
The four Japanese men then hugged and leaped in joy, mobbing Funaki, who later dived into a crowd of supporters.
Headlines 6 inches high on extra-edition newspapers carried only one word: "GOLD."
"All four of us worked together and got the gold. We helped each other. Everyone was the best," Harada said. "It wasn't me. It was all the teammates."
It was the eighth medal of Nagano for Japan - its biggest haul ever at a Winter Games. It also brought to 100 the total number of gold medals Japan has won in all Olympic competition.
Funaki, the World Cup leader and the first Japanese to win the prestigious Four-Hill tour, gained his second gold of the Games, after winning the large hill individual event. He also had a silver in the normal hill in his first Olympics.
Harada got the gold to go with his bronze in the large hill.
In other Olympic action:
- SKIING: Katja Seizinger did something Picabo Street couldn't - win a second skiing gold in the Nagano Games. It was also the second in two days for Seizinger, who led a German sweep of the women's combined event.
It was the third time a nation had won all three medals in an Alpine women's event since 1964, and gave Seizinger a record-tying third Olympic gold medal.
"Three Germans on the podium. It's unbelievable," said Martina Ertl, who won the silver. "It's never happened before."
Seizinger, who also won the downhill at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, had two nearly flawless slalom runs through steady snow. Ertl took the silver and Hilde Gerg the bronze.
American teen-ager Caroline Lalive watched as the three Germans accepted their medals, then ran up to the stands and threw flowers into the crowd. Lalive, a rising star from Steamboat Springs, Colo., had the best U.S. finish in seventh place.
"We were thinking how awesome it would be to have three Americans up there in 2002," Lalive said. "I think it's not at all out of our reach. I think it's definitely possible."
- SPEEDSKATING: The question wasn't whether a new world record would be set in the 10,000-meter race, but rather how much the old record would be broken by. Gianne Romme provided the answer by obliterating the 4-year-old mark held by Johann Olav Koss by more than 15 seconds for his second world-record of the Nagano Games. The 25-year-old from the Netherlands skated in 13 minutes, 15.33 seconds to erase one of the last record holdouts from the traditional skate era. Romme, knowing he was one a record pace from the first lap on, didn't even bother to look at the scoreboard as he threw his arms up in triumph at the finish. It was a sweep for the Dutch, with Bob de Jong taking the silver and Rintje Ritsma the bronze.
In short track speedskating, South Korea was a double winner, getting its first two medals of the game, both gold.