In the previous Winter Olympic games at Lillehammer, Norway, Nishikata had appeared alongside Harada as a teammate. He had just made the team’s longest jump of 135 meters. Japan looked like it had the gold medal in the bag. But then Harada flubbed his jump. And they had to settle for second place, a silver medal. Vowing to erase that humiliation at the next winter games in Nagano four years later, Nishikata threw himself into training. But then he injured his back and was dropped from the team. His hopes crushed, Nishikata was, however, asked to participate in the Nagano games as a test jumper.
A test jumper’s job is check for any hazards on the hill prior to the event, and to make numerous jumps should it start to snow during the event to pack down the snow. Despite being resigned to a humiliating behind-the-scenes role, Nishikata gathered the other test jumpers, all with back stories of their own, and began preparing for the event.
And then it came. In the first round, Harada again made a poor showing. Team Japan fell to fourth place. But then a fierce blizzard blew in, stopping the action. If the event were to be called now, the first round results would stand.
Just then, the event judges called together all 25 of the test jumpers and said, “If you can all jump, we’ll resume the event.” Miraculously, Japan’s path to a gold medal lay open again, and in the hands of Nishikata and his 24 test jumpers.