This month’s sporting roundup features the Tokyo Marathon, a teenage swimming sensation, Japan’s Super Rugby debut, the start of the J-League season and … an asteroid.
By Matthew Hernon
Rugby It was another historic day for Japanese rugby on Saturday as Tokyo’s Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium played host to the first ever Super Rugby game in this country. A sellout crowd was in attendance to cheer on the Sunwolves against the Lions of South Africa and on 61 minutes, captain Shota Horie gave them all something to cheer about when he scored their maiden try. Tusi Pisi’s conversion meant the score was 19-13 in favor of the visitors with 20 minutes to play. That was as good as it got for the hastily assembled Japanese side who, despite a lot of guts and endeavor, ended up losing 26-13. Skipper Horie promised fans that they would get better; the problem is that far superior teams to the Lions await.
The urban legend says that seven days after watching a Japanese Sunwolves match, you will be killed by their mascot. pic.twitter.com/ev2x7KgK27
— Dylan Walton (@I_am_DWalt) February 26, 2016
At least the Sunwolves can rely on the fearsome powers of their as-yet-unnamed mascot…
Marathon Rugby fever even swept the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday with many runners sporting a Brave Blossoms jersey. Around 37,000 people took part in the tenth edition of the race and it was Ethiopian Feyisa Lilesa who took the glory in the men’s event following a late surge to overtake 2014 winner Dickson Chumba. Yuki Takamiya was the highest placed Japanese runner in eighth, guaranteeing himself a place at the Rio Olympics. 19 year old Yuta Shimoda finished 10th in his first ever marathon. The runner-up in 2015, Kenyan Helah Kiprop went one better this time around, taking the women’s title. Yukiko Okuno was the only home-grown runner in the top ten. Australia’s Kurt Fearnley and Japan’s Wakako Tsuchida won the wheelchair races.
Swimming Another month, another national record for teenager Rikako Ikee. In October the 15 year old broke Yuka Kato’s record in the 100m butterfly. Three months later she became the first Japanese swimmer to go under 54 seconds in the 100m freestyle and followed that up this February by breaking Miki Uchida’s 50m freestyle record. A similar performance in April, when the National Championships take place, and the junior high school student will almost certainly be on the plane to Rio. Kosuke Hagino is also expected to be in the team. The World Swimmer of the Year in 2014, he has fought back from a broken elbow and this month swam the first sub 4.10 of 2016 in the 400m individual medley. He is likely to compete in multiple events at the Olympics.
Winter Sports Speaking of talented teens, Ayumi Hirano and Sara Takanashi aren’t half bad either. At 15 snowboarder Hirano picked up a silver medal at the Sochi Olympics. Two years on he is now the leading man in his field and this month won the X Games in Oslo with a cab double cork 1440 (not exactly sure what it is, but it certainly sounds impressive). Takanashi finished a very disappointing fourth at the 2014 Games in Russia; however, when it comes to World Cups she is the dominant force. In February the 19 year old won her third overall title in four years. She has, at the time of writing, soared to victory in 13 events this season. In figure skating Satoko Miyahara won gold at the Four Continents Championships.
Had a great time at X games Oslo! @gopro #gopro #GOLD A video posted by AYUMU HIRANO (@ayumuhirano1129) on
A bit of Hirano’s Oslo footage
Football Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat Gamba Osaka 3-1 to lift the Fuji Xerox Cup. Their title defense got off to a bad start, though, as they went down to a 1-0 home loss against Kawasaki Frontale. Out of last season’s top four, only Urawa Reds won. F.C. Tokyo and Gamba Osaka both lost by a single goal. Eight of the nine games on the opening weekend ended with away victories. In Europe it was a positive month for Keisuke Honda, who has played a big part in AC Milan’s recent resurgence. Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui also continued their good run of form for Hertha Berlin and Eibar respectively. Shinji Okazaki’s Leicester City remain top of the league in England as do Takumi Minamino’s Red Bull Salzburg in Austria.
Judo Olympic champion Kaori Matsumoto’s season got off to a winning start at the Düsseldorf Grand Prix. The 28 year old took two years out of the sport following her victory at the London Olympics and looked a little rusty at times following her comeback last year. It’s the fifth Grand Prix title of her career in the -57kg division and will give her a lot of confidence as she prepares for Rio. On the same day teammate Ai Shishime won the -52kg event. Shohei Ono returned from his back injury to retain the -73kg title he won in 2015. In the Paris Grand Slam earlier in the month there were victories for Toru Shishime (-60kg), Masashi Ebinuma (-66kg), Hisayoshi Harasawa (+100kg), Daiki Nishiyama (-90kg) and Megumi Tachimoto (+78kg).
Baseball There was surprise and disappointment at the start of the month following the arrest of Kazuhiro Kiyohara for alleged drug use. The former Seibu Lions and Yomiuri Giants slugger hit 525 home runs during his distinguished career. Only four players in professional Japanese baseball have hit more. One of those players is of course Sadaharu Oh and in more positive news, it was recently announced that the legendary batter was to have an asteroid named after him. Estimated to be around three kilometers in diameter, “Ohsadaharu,” is currently orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. The 75 year old is the only man in the history of the sport to have hit more than 800 home runs.
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