This week’s news roundup is dominated by the Winter Olympics. At the time of writing, Japan has two golds. The first came from Ryoyu Kobayashi in the men’s normal hill ski jumping competition. This morning snowboarder Ayumu Hirano then doubled the tally with a stunning performance in the men’s halfpipe final.

In figure skating, Yuzuru Hanyu missed out on a third successive title. Failing to execute the quadruple axel, he also ended up outside the medals, with countrymen Shoma Uno and Yuma Kagiyama taking silver and bronze. They also medaled in the team event.

Away from Beijing, we have the latest Covid-19 news. And in entertainment, Drive My Car became the first Japanese film to earn an Oscar nomination in the Best Picture category. 

Hirano Lands Triple Cork to Take Home the Gold 

Following consecutive silver medals in Sochi and PyeongChang, Ayumu Hirano is now an Olympic champion. The Niigata Prefecture-native, who competed at the Tokyo Olympics in skateboarding, landed the triple cork on all three of his runs. He was the only competitor to attempt it. His first run was good, his second was even better. Remarkably, though, the judges had him in second behind Australia’s Scotty James. It looked like scoring controversy might deny him, then he left them with no doubt on the final run, scoring an incredible 96.00. 

In his final Olympics, legendary boarder Shaun White just missed out on a medal to Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer while James took the silver. Ayumu’s brother Kaishu finished ninth with Yuto Totsuka and Ruka Hirano back in 10th and 12th respectively. In the women’s halfpipe, Sena Tomita won a bronze medal with a best score of 88.25. That put her two points behind silver-medalist Queralt Castellet from Spain. America’s Chloe Kim blew away the competition to take gold with a score of 94.0 on her opening run. Sena’s sister Ruki Tomita finished fifth while Mitsuki Ono placed ninth.  

Ryoyu Kobayashi, Japan’s first normal hill Olympic champion for 50 years | Photo by Marcin Kadziolka/Shutterstock

Kobayashi Wins Japan’s First Normal Hill Gold in 50 Years 

Ryoyu Kobayashi secured Japan’s first gold of the Beijing Olympics in the men’s normal hill ski jumping competition. The 25-year-old produced a magnificent opening round score of 145.4, giving him a big lead going into the second jump. He followed that up with a solid 129.6 to secure the victory. Silver-medalist Manuel Fettner finished 4.2 points behind. It was Japan’s first gold in the normal hill event since Yukio Kasaya’s triumph in Sapporo half a century ago.  

Kobayashi also competed in the mix team event where Japan finished fourth. It was a hugely controversial competition with five female competitors having their jumps nullified because their suits didn’t comply with the rules. Among the five was Sara Takanashi and that ultimately cost the Japan team a medal. While other jumpers complained about the unfairness of it all, Takanashi apologized for the violation via Instagram alongside a blackened photo. She wore the same suit for her individual competition, in which she also finished fourth.  

No third successive Olympic title for Yuzuru Hanyu

Medals for Uno and Kagiyama, but No Three-Peat for Hanyu 

It was one of the most highly-anticipated contests of the Games. Yuzuru Hanyu aiming for an unprecedented third Olympic title against three-time World Champion Nathan Chen. During the short program, though, the American was a class apart with Hanyu back down in eighth. The Japanese man needed to produce something special in the free skate and attempted the quadruple axel. It didn’t come off. He still performed well and held the lead until the last three skaters. He was then overtaken by compatriots Shoma Uno and Yuma Kagiyama. The latter dropped down to silver after another nearly flawless performance by Chen. 

The top three in the men’s singles competition also picked up medals in the team event. Chen helped the US finish second, while Uno and Kagiyama were part of the Japan team that won bronze. The last event was the women’s free skate in which Kaori Sakamoto placed second behind ROC’s Kamila Valieva. Since then, news has come out that Valieva has allegedly tested positive for the banned substance trimetazidine. At 15, she is considered a “protected person,” which means there’s a chance that, even if found guilty of an anti-doping violation, she could be reprimanded rather than disqualified.  A medal ceremony has yet to take place. 

Ikuma Horishima won Japan’s first medal at the Games | Photo by Juanan Barros Moreno/Shutterstock

Bronze for Horishima, Takagi Has to Settle for Silver  

Japan’s first medal of the Games came from Ikuma Horishima. He finished third in the men’s moguls final behind Sweden’s Walter Wallberg and Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury. In the women’s competition, 17-year-old Anri Kawamura finished fifth as Australia’s Jakara Anthony topped the podium. There was disappointment in speed skating as pre-race favorite Miho Takagi had to settle for a silver in the 1,500m. It was the same 1-2 as four years ago with Ireen Wüst winning gold. The Dutch woman became the first athlete to win an individual event at five consecutive Olympics.  

In other sporting news, Takumi Minamino marked his 50th appearance for Liverpool with a goal in their 3-1 FA Cup win against Cardiff. It was the Japanese international’s seventh goal of the season for the Merseyside club. Up in Scotland, Daizen Maeda grabbed his second of the campaign for Celtic who remain top after wins over Motherwell and Aberdeen. There were also goals last weekend in Belgium for Daichi Hayashi as Sint-Truiden beat Kortrijk 3-1, and Ado Onaiwu in France who bagged the fourth in Toulouse’s 4-1 win over Dijon.  

Japan is targeting 1 million booster shots per day

Quasi-State of Emergency Extended  

The quasi-state of emergency is not going away any time soon. This week came the news that restrictions for Tokyo and 12 other prefectures would be extended for three more weeks. Initially scheduled to end this Sunday, they will now remain in place until at least March 6. There are currently 35 out of 47 prefectures under a quasi-state of emergency. On Saturday, Kochi will become prefecture number 36 to join the list. While cases remain high throughout the country, they are slightly down from last week.  

At a televised House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting on Monday, Prime Minister Kishida called on ministers to speed up the Covid-19 booster shot program. At the moment, around 500,000 shots are being administered daily. Stating a target number for the first time, he said that figure should be doubled this month. “We’ll strengthen our efforts to increase the pace to 1 million doses per day as early as possible in February,” insisted the PM. The rollout so far has been painfully slow, leading to criticism of the government from several politicians including former vaccine czar Taro Kono. 

Ryusuke Hamaguchi is the first Japanese director since Akira Kurosawa to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar 

Drive My Car Earns Four Oscar Nominations

Speaking about his movie Asako I & II in 2018, Ryusuke Hamaguchi told TW he didn’t “make films to chase awards.” Well, that may be true, but it seems that awards are now chasing him. From the Cannes International Film Festival to the Golden Globes, Drive My Car has picked up accolade after accolade. Two more were added on Sunday at the London Film Critics’ Circle Awards. And then two days later came the announcement that the three-hour drama had been nominated for four Oscars.  

Drive My Car is the first-ever Japanese film to score a Best Picture nod. The only non-English-language movie to take home Hollywood’s top prize was Parasite two years ago. Hamaguchi, meanwhile, became the third Japanese filmmaker to earn a Best Director nomination after Hiroshi Teshigahara (Women in the Dunes) and Akira Kurosawa (Ran). He was also nominated alongside Takamasa Oe for Best Adapted Screenplay. The script was based on a short story by Haruki Murakami. The least surprising nomination came in the Best International Feature Film category.