Olympic joy for the U23 squad, a rising tennis star, a new rugby coach and at long last a home-grown sumo champion: Weekender looks back at an eventful month in Japanese sport.
By Matthew Hernon
There were wild celebrations at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan Hall on January 24 as Kotoshogiku won the Emperor’s Cup. His parents burst into tears as he became the first Japanese wrestler to lift the trophy since Tochiazuma in 2006. The Fukuoka-native had a marvelous tournament defeating the three Mongolian Yokozuna; Hakuho, Haramafuji and Kakuryu. His only defeat came against close friend Toyonoshima. The celebrations continued a week later when Kotoshogiku and wife Yumi held a wedding reception on his 32nd birthday. More than 600 people were in attendance, including former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. We are not sure if the “Seven Sumo” were there, but they have certainly grabbed a lot of attention following this unique ad from Toyota.
Kei Nishikori bowed out at the Quarter-finals stage of the Australian Open, losing in straight sets to world number one Novak Djokovic. After an impressive fourth-round victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Japanese player was full of confidence going into the match, but in truth never looked like troubling the Serb. In the women’s tournament 18-year-old Naomi Osaka reached the third round after a comprehensive 6-4, 6-4 win over 18th-seeded Elina Svitolina before being knocked out by Victoria Azarenka. Born here to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, she now lives in Florida. Serena Williams told reporters, “She’s really young and really aggressive. She’s a really good, talented player. Very dangerous.” Shingo Kunieda and his Scottish doubles partner Gordon Reid lost in the wheelchairs final 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.
Source: USA Today
The men’s side advanced to the Olympics following a dramatic victory over Iraq in the semi-finals of the AFC U-23 Championships. Level at 1-1, the game seemed destined for extra-time when midfielder Riki Harakawa struck on the 93rd minute to give Japan a nail-biting win. For good measure they went on to lift the trophy, beating old foes South Korea in the final. Korea led 2-0 at the hour mark, but then the substitution of Takuma Asano made all the difference. The 21 year old Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker scored twice as the Samurai Blue came from behind to win 3-2. Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima completed his move to Dundee United, who are well adrift at the bottom of the Scottish Premier League. Shinji Okazaki‘s Leicester are at the other end of the spectrum, surprisingly leading the way in the English top flight.
Jamie Joseph was officially confirmed as the new head coach of the Brave Blossoms. The former All-Black flanker will not start working with the team until September as he is still under contract with Super Rugby champions the Highlanders. The 46 year old appeared for both Japan (9 caps) and New Zealand (20) during his playing days. His final game for the latter was the 1995 World Cup Final. Prop Kensuke Hatakeyama, who is likely to play a key role for Joseph in the future, signed for English side Newcastle Falcons. In a thrilling domestic final Panasonic Wild Knights beat Toshiba Brave Lupus 27-26 in front of a crowd of 27,000 people at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground. South African fullback Francois Steyn missed a conversion at the death that would have given Toshiba victory.
In the same month she was presented with the prestigious Grand Prix Sports Award, Kaori Icho lost her first bout in 13 years. Mongolian student Orkhon Purevdorj ended the ten-time World Champion and three-time Olympic gold medalist’s winning run which had lasted for an astonishing 189 matches. The 31 year old didn’t seem overly concerned with the defeat. Speaking through the Japan Wrestling Federation she said, “I couldn’t wrestle my way and this is the outcome. It was a good experience. I’d like to make this an opportunity to grow ahead of Rio.” The national team director Kazuhito Sakae feels there is enough time to put things right before the Summer Games, adding, “I believe she can win her fourth-straight Olympic title.”
Source: Asia Times
Sara Takanashi is well ahead of the rest in the race for the World Cup. The 19 year old claimed her eighth consecutive win on Sunday and now leads Austrian Daniela Iraschko-Stolz – currently in second – by almost 300 points. In men’s ski jumping Noriaki Kasai tied his personal record of 240.5 metres just two days after the death of his younger sister. After attending her funeral the Olympic silver medalist wrote “I’m right in the middle of the season and I can’t afford to keep dragging around this sorrow. I’ve been made even stronger from today.” The man known simply as “Legend” in Japan was recently awarded with two Guinness World Records certificates: Most appearances in FIS Nordic World Ski Championships by an individual ski jumper and Most individual starts in FIS Ski Jumping World Cup competitions.