In 1998 the Winter Olympic Games returned to Japan, 26 years after the Games were held in Sapporo. Snowboarding and curling joined the Olympic program, and women’s ice hockey was also introduced. In all, 72 nations took part, with Germany leading the medal table, winning 12 gold medals. Australia, for the second successive Games, would again appear on the medal table, with skier Zali Steggall wining a bronze in women’s slalom.
The men’s ice hockey tournament allowed professionals to participate for the first time. However, rather than be a boon for North American teams, with stars such as Canada’s great Wayne Gretzky competing, European teams swept the medals. The Czech Republic won gold, beating Russia 1-0 in the final, with Finland winning the bronze.
Japanese ski jumper Kazuyoshi Funaki excelled for the host country. He began the Games by winning the silver medal in the normal hill event. On the large hill, he obtained perfect style points from all five judges - an unprecedented achievement - and won the gold medal. He then earned a second gold in the team event as a member of the victorious Japanese squad. Beside him on the gold medal podium was teammate Masahiko “Happy” Harada, one of the most popular jumpers of the time.
Norway’s Björn Daehlie won three gold medals in cross-country skiing to become the first winter athlete to earn eight Olympic gold medals and 12 total medals. At the age of 15 years and 255 days, Tara Lipinski from the United States won the women’s figure skating title to become the youngest winner of an individual event in the history of the Winter Olympics, beating Norway’s Sonia Henie’s 70-year-old record by two months.
The spirit of the Games was exemplified by alpine skier Hermann Maier from Austria. During the downhill, he lost control and took a spectacular fall, flying more than 100 metres through the air and crashing through two retaining fences before coming to a stop. Incredibly, Maier, known as “The Hermannator”, not only survived without serious injury, but three days later he raced in the super-G and won the gold medal. Three days after that he earned a second gold medal in the giant slalom.