“Anju Nakamura x Naoki Nakamura Special Interview” — A new step for Nordic combined female athletes

In December 2020, the first Women’s World Cup in Nordic combined history was held in Ramsau, Austria. In this memorable match, Japanese national team representative Anju Nakamura finished third and took the podium.

This was the first World Cup for Anju Nakamura and other Nordic combined female athletes.

Moreover, due to the coronavirus epidemic, the scheduled games were canceled and it became a season that will not be forgotten for a long time.

In these unusual circumstances, there have been hardships that only the players and related parties could understand, which could have gone unnoticed by the fans and media.

How was it actually?

Naoki Nakamura, the brother of Anju Nakamura and a member of the Japanese national team, spoke with her from the perspective of both siblings being professional athletes.

*

This article is an edited version of an interview held within the online community “Flying Laboratory”. You can watch the full video by joining the community.

*** ***

Naoki Nakamura (hereafter: Naoki)

For you it was the first World Cup. Moreover, due to the coronavirus epidemic, it became an unusual season, during which it was not possible to return to Japan. How was it?

Anju Nakamura (hereafter: Anju)

For me, the longest string of away tournaments so far lasted one month, but suddenly it has tripled. Normally in the World Cup series, the games are being held every weekend. Women usually have fewer games than men and, due to the current situation, the number of competitions has been reduced even more, so there was only one game in Ramsau, Austria.

I entered three games in the Continental Cup, which is a level below the World Cup, but unfortunately I was disqualified from one of them, so as a result I participated in two games. Later I participated in the World Championships.

Even though I had been there for three months, I only took part in four games, so it was more like a training camp than away games (laughs).

Naoki

But you have finished 3rd in the World Cup, 2nd in both of the two Continental Cup games, and 4th in the World Championships. It’s amazing, all the results were in the top five.

You may have regrets, but also you have some good results. I wonder what the actual situation was like. Let’s look back on the four games!

table of contents
・The first World Cup match with ups and downs
・Continental Cup challenged in a devastating state
・World Championships and struggle to face oneself

The first World Cup match with ups and downs

Anju

Regarding the World Cup, the first round was originally planned to be held in Lillehammer, Norway, but it was canceled. Two weeks before the match it was decided that it would take place in Ramsau, Austria. Coaches and staff were confused because they had to quickly decide on various things such as transportation, booking flights and hotels. Actually, at first, the coach was thinking about not going at all. I was the one who was willing to go.

Naoki

Hmm, did you find out later?

Anju

I just asked because I am on good terms with the coach. The possibility of not going was taken into consideration, but the head coach and other staff members said that it would be a shame if we couldn’t participate in such an important game. Even if we wouldn’t achieve any good results, it still made sense to participate. That’s how we decided to go.

Naoki

So how was it when you got to the site?

Anju

Two days before the competition, after arriving, something unexpected happened. Everyone was asked to gather as soon as possible. It occurred that one of the staff members of the Japanese team was told that he might not be able to participate in the World Cup due to a coronavirus infection.

Naoki

What?!

Anju

We had to wait at the hotel. It was, what it was. No one wanted to get sick so there was no one to be blamed. So, when players from other countries were preparing for the game, we were waiting resigned in our rooms.

Naoki

What were you doing at the hotel while waiting?

Anju

I was practicing English in case of future interviews. I was going to win after all(laughs)

At the university, I’m studying at the Department of International Communication, but I’m not good at English, so I thought I would memorize some useful phrases (laughs). The next day, players from other countries participated in the PCR (Provisional Competition Round), a preliminary jump round being held in case of bad weather affecting the next day’s tournament. The people around noticed that the Japanese team wasn’t participating and they started to rustle.

Naoki

“Hey, hey, Japanese team isn’t there?”

Anju

Exactly. And it was decided the Japanese team will be able to participate in the game if the PCR test is okay. Everyone on the Japanese team got negative test results, but only my test was inconclusive.

Naoki

What?!

Anju

While everyone on the Japanese team was practicing jumping, I was the only one that had to be re-examined. “Seriously?!” I thought, but for some reason I had a feeling that it is going to be fine (laughs).

I thought that even if I don’t jump in the training session, I’ll still be able to do fine in the competition round. The second test was fortunately negative.

Naoki

After all those things happened, how was the competition?

Anju

Perhaps because it was the first World Cup, everyone was excited. There was no audience, but the presence of the TV cameras always makes the atmosphere different. People around me have been telling me that they just want to enjoy the competition, since it is the first World Cup. I think, thanks to those words, I was able to remain calm. I wished to finish the jumping round around the single digit rank, but I didn’t expect to finish 3rd. I was surprised to find out that the difference between 16th place and the top was around 1–2 minutes.

Naoki

And in the cross-country race you kept the 3rd place.

Anju

I was in a position to aim for the victory, but everyone kept running on the high level. When I cross the finish line, I always feel tired and like I’m going to collapse, but this time I somehow started to laugh. Although I was about 12 seconds behind the 1st place, from my point of view, it felt like the winner was right in front of me. I thought “Oh, so I’m 3rd. Still, I’m so lucky to be on the podium”.

Naoki

The World Cup ended with only that game. If I were in that position, I would feel relieved.

Anju

I was aiming for the championship, so I was not fully satisfied with the 3rd place. However after a while, I felt that strange confidence that if I had worked a little more harder, I would have been able to win. But after Christmas and New Year everything started to cool down.

Naoki

I completely understand! The first participation in such a competition is really exciting.

Anju

Exactly. When I finished 3rd in the World Cup, many sporting goods companies tagged me and posted information about my result on SNS. Also, I’ve been followed by people from abroad. I thought the influence of the World Cup was amazing.

Naoki

That’s what it means to be an athlete. You are standing on the world stage, and from now on it is going to be a busy time for you (laughs).

Anju

Hehehe (laughs).

Continental Cup challenged in a devastating state

Naoki

Three Continental Cup games were held in mid-January. What kind of feeling did you have?

Anju

At the turn of the year my practice jumps were very good. Am I in the zone? Am I doing it right? A thousand thoughts were going through my mind. Somehow I was doing much better than normally. But then for some reason my jumps started to get worse and worse. The first game was right around the corner and I didn’t know what to do. But I got some advice from you and I was able to jump well and finish in 2nd place.

Naoki

That’s right.

Anju

The next day I wasn’t in the best shape and the weather was bad as well. While gliding down, skis didn’t slide well. Many competitors’ jumps were short but I managed to finish second. In all three competitions Gyda Westvold Hansen from Norway took 1st place.

Naoki

I was cheering for her (laughs).

Anju

And in the third game I was disqualified for the first time in my life. Usually, when a player is disqualified for a suit violation, the reason is too long inseam. In my case the sleeves were too long. I was really shocked. It was hard to support everyone and not be able to compete with them. I wanted it to end as soon as possible (laughs).

Naoki

I was also disqualified only once in my life. I sweated too much and lost weight in the World Cup summer game. After the first jump, I was in 9th place. If you enter the top 10 in the first round, you will for sure undergo a control. And I was out. I was laughing at it, but it was frustrating.

Anju

It was frustrating. But well, these are the rules and it couldn’t be helped. I wanted to get over it quickly. It affected me quite a bit.

Naoki

Well, it might also be the effect of the small number of games.

Anju

Also after the third game, I was worried about the cross-country round.

Naoki

Hmm, that’s rare.

Anju

I was 1 minute behind and I thought it would be easy to catch up, but everyone was getting faster. As I became lighter and jumped better, my strength dropped and I couldn’t run as powerful as last year. I ran, but I was scared at the same time.

Naoki

Hmm, maybe you were in a slump.

Anju

I was scared to participate in the game. I thought I’ll lose to everyone. I started jumping later than everyone else but on the other hand I spent a lot of time doing cross-country before. That’s why I could run faster than other competitors. But they were all catching up. Maybe I was underestimating the cross-country round.

Naoki

I see. How did you get out of that slump? Or maybe you haven’t yet?

Anju

I haven’t. I was heading to the World Championship with a lot of thoughts about my form and many different things running through my head but looking back, it was really the worst run.

World Championships and struggle to face oneself

Naoki

The World Championships is a big event, but you took 4th place.

Anju

The jumps were devastating, cross-country was scary, and my mental condition was the worst. In that state I went to Oberstdorf. Moreover, it was the first time I was jumping from that particular hill. I remember seeing on YouTube Sara Takanashi’s preliminary jump in Oberstdorf. When I flew, it was completely different from what I had imagined.

Naoki

It’s a terrific hill (laughs).

Anju

When I thought about it as steeper than it really was, I felt better. It wasn’t my favourite hill (laughs).

Naoki

During the jump, the ground is very close all the time. I think there is no such type of jumping hill in Japan.

Anju

There isn’t. And it’s different from jumping hills in Zao. So, I jumped without confidence and finished the practice at 13th place out of 30 competitors. I didn’t think I would be able to finish in the single digit rank in that state. So I watched videos of Gyda and Italian players who are good at jumping and all night long I was wondering what was different in my jumps. Also I got some advice from you, and when I tried it in practice, it worked out and my jumps improved a little.

Naoki

I feel like you are really good at jumping but sometimes you’re just not sure how to do it properly.

Anju

That’s right. After you’ve told me that I might be too hard on myself and overthinking I thought it might be the case. So I decided to fix it and try my best, but I was so nervous that my head hurt. I knew I didn’t have to think about what to do if I failed, but I couldn’t forgive myself for the failure. What I wrote in the diary at this time was a mess (laughs). I was thinking how great Sara Takanashi is. She is famous and expects a lot from herself so she probably has it more difficult. I was full of various emotions.

Naoki

Even if I’m nervous, my surroundings and what I have to do are not going to change. If you don’t focus on your performance at the moment, you’ll lose tension. That’s how I was keeping mindfulness (laughs). Thanks to that you can feel your current self. When you think “Ah, my heart is beating.” or “It’s cold today.”, you can get back to yourself. Before starting the jump, if I can’t concentrate on preparing my current self and think only about takeoff and what I will do in the air, I usually fail. I’ve been studying a lot like this lately, so let’s do it together next time (laughs).

Anju

I was scared and cried the morning before the game. I was just thinking only about negative things and that I’ll fail the jump. I thought “Ok, I’ll do my best!” and then I saw a ladybug in front of me. In Europe ladybugs are said to bring good luck, so I thought it’s wishing me all the best.

Naoki

And then you headed to the game.

Anju

On the day of the competition, I was very nervous, so I tried not to watch the jumps of other players. I didn’t want to think that if someone did a good jump, I have to do my best as well.

Even though there were no spectators, the other players jumped so good that the venue was noisy. I thought, “Oh, come on.” and put on my goggles. They had never been so cloudy before (laughs).

Naoki

Maybe you were sweating that much (laughs).

Anju

I thought “Oh no…” but my goggles started to dry. And so I jumped. I managed to jump as far as possible and finished 6th. I caught up a little in the cross-country round and finished 4th overall.

Previous summer I had been considering what a player who finished 4th in the World Championships feels and I thought I don’t want to be in that situation. But then I really was. I could see the medal right in front of me, but I couldn’t reach it. I was frustrated and angry with myself, and I wanted to talk about my feelings with someone as soon as possible, so I called you immediately (laughs).

Naoki

That’s right (laughs). Sara might have been feeling the same. At the Olympic Games, she was expected to win a medal, but she was 4th.

Anju

Maybe so. Last year, I had expectations of myself, and even if I wasn’t feeling well, I thought that I could still do something about it! As a result I lost in the Junior World Championships.

It wasn’t a good approach, so this year I wanted to start with a different mindset. And I was 4th. I think compared to last year I’ve grown better, but it wasn’t enough, so I lowered my goal. Although my goal was to win the World Championships, I became discouraged by Gyda’s strength and lowered my goal to “win a medal at the World Championships”. In the end, I didn’t win the medal and I was disappointed. Why did I lower my goal?

Naoki

I think it’s okay to be honest with yourself. It’s more difficult than pushing yourself too hard.

A hard to reach goal doesn’t mean you can automatically jump better or run faster. I really feel it when I look at Ryoyu. “I am, what I am!”

Anju

I want to be able to pull myself together like him.

Naoki

He’s amazing. “I’m having a bad time right now, and that’s okay!” (laughs). Before one of the games he said “It seems like it’s going to be a dead rubber match!” and won the World Championships (laughs).

Anju

Akito Watabe is also a rather easy-going person, and when he loses, he’s like “Okay, next!”.

Naoki

I think it’s because he has a lot of experience. When I couldn’t get even 1 point in a single season and during the game couldn’t qualify to the best 30, I didn’t feel humiliation. I felt like the meaning of my existence was denied. Because of that, I am where I am now.

I think you will participate in a lot of competitions in the future and I’m sure you will practice and gain a lot of experience from that. You have to do your best

Anju

I have no choice but to do my best!

*** ***

She was struggling to control the situation around her, her mind, body and couldn’t help herself.

Under such circumstances, with physical and mental ups and downs, Anju Nakamura achieved results.

For herself, there may be a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction, but I think that each step taken so far will result in strength for the next season.

I would like to see her taking a leap forward with the support of her older brother, Naoki Nakamura, who is experienced in competing on the world’s stage and always gives good advice.

— -

Writing / Editing: Hideaki Asou
Translation : Marta Czudak

— -

Official Twitter
https://twitter.com/flylabo

Website
https://www.flyinglaboratory.com/