WINTER SPORTS AND OLYMPICS IN JAPAN: 1998 WINTER GAMES IN NAGANO, SPEED SKATERS, SKI JUMPERS AND SNOWBOARDERS

WINTER OLYMPICS AND JAPANESE ATHLETES

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The popularity of winter sports in Japan is substantiated by the country’s distinction of being the first Asian country to host the Winter Olympics (1972). Further proof can be found in its role as host to both the first and second Winter Asian Games (1986 and 1990). To these, of course, the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano can now be added.

“Japan’s first Winter Olympic team took part in the Second Games, held at St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1928. The first team to be accompanied by a female member was at the 1936 Winter Games in Garmisch- Partenkirchen, Germany. Japan has since participated in every one of the Winter Games with the exception of Oslo, in 1948. In 1956, Igaya Chiharu took second place in the slalom event at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. It was the first medal taken by Japan in Winter Olympic history. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

The first international winter tournament to be held in Japan after World War II was the World Men’s Speed Skating Tournament. Japan has been an eager participant in the Winter Olympics since the second games, held at St. Moritz, Switzerland. With the exception of Oslo in 1948, Japanese teams have taken part in all subsequent Winter Games. The Eleventh Winter Olympic Games in February 1972, held in Sapporo, Hokkaido, 1,128 athletes from 35 countries and marked the first time a Japanese earned a gold medal, in the 70-meter ski jump event. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

In the Nordic combined event, the Japanese team won consecutive gold medals at the Albertville Games and the 1994 Lillehammer Games, and Kono Takanori won an individual silver medal in that event at the 1994 Games. For women’s freestyle mogul skiing, Satoya Tae won a gold medal at the Nagano Games and a bronze medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

A bonus of $25,000 was given to Japanese Olympic gold medalist in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, the same that was given to American gold medalists.

Seiko Hashimoto appeared in four straight Winter Olympic Games as speed skater and three Summer Games in cycling. In 1992, she won a bronze medal on the 1,500 meter speed skating event, but never medaled in cycling. Born in 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics she was named Seiko after the first Japanese character used for the Olympics flame (Seika). She is now President of th Japan Skating Association and a member of House of the Councillors, the Japanese upper house of parliament.

Good Websites and Sources: Nagano Olympics hikyaku.com/nagano ; Nagano 1998 on Olympics.org olympic.org/en/content/Olympic-Games ; Sapporo 1972 olympic.org/en/content/Olympic-Games ;

Links in this Website: SPORTS IN JAPAN (Click Sports, Recreation, Pets ) Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; OLYMPICS AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE OLYMPIC ATHLETES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE MARATHON RUNNERS AND TRACK ATHLETES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE OLYMPIC SWIMMERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE OLYMPIC GYMNASTS AND WRESTLERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JUDO, JAPAN AND THE OLYMPICS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; WINTER OLYMPICS AND JAPANESE ATHLETES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE FIGURE SKATERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BOXING AND PRO WRESTLING IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Good Websites and Sources and Sources on the Olympics and Japan: Wikipedia article on Japan at the Olympics Wikipedia ; Medal Winners in Olympics.org olympic.org/en ; Japanese Olympic Committee joc.or.jp/english ; Essay on Japan’s Rebirth at the 1964 Olympics aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Database on Olympic Athletes databaseolympics.com

Winter Games at Sapporo in 1972

The city of Sapporo, in Hokkaido, won the bid to host the Eleventh Winter Olympic Games in February 1972. Those games attracted 1,128 athletes from 35 countries. The Sapporo Games also marked the first time a Japanese earned a gold medal in the Winter Olympics as Kasaya Yukio took first place in the 70-meter ski jump event. One of the highlights of those games the sweep of the gold, silver and bronze medals in the 70-meter ski jump by the Japanese "Hinomauro Hikotai” Squadron led by Kagaya.

The games in Sapporo were the first Winter Olympics held outside of Europe and North America. Thirty nations attended. Japan won its first winter gold when Kaseya led the sweep in normal hill ski jumping event. Karl Schranze was banned from the games for accepting money from a ski maker.

Winter Games at Nagano in 1998

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The 1998 Winter Olympics were held in Nagano, a mid-size town in the Japan Alps. The Nagano Olympic Committee spent $800 million on facilities for the event, including $80 million for ski jump with an astro turf surface for summer use, and $100 million for bobsled and luge course (which worked out to $500,000 each for Japan's 200 bobsledders and lugers). In addition, the Japanese government built a new bullet train between Tokyo and Nagano that reduced the travel time from three hours to 79 minutes but cost $7 billion.

The Nagano Games were held from February 7 to 22, 1998. The venues, in addition to the prefectural capital of Nagano city, included famous winter sports resorts, such as Shiga Highlands, Hakuba, Karuizawa, and Nozawa Onsen. Coinciding with the Winter Games, Nagano also hosted the 107th meeting of the IOC General Assembly. The Nagano Games were the last Winter Games held in the twentieth century. Seventy-two countries and districts participated, with 2,302 athletes contesting 68 events. The following new official events were included: slalom and half-pipe snowboarding events, women’s ice hockey (teams from Canada, the United States, Finland, China, Sweden, and Japan participated), and curling. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“One of the stated aims of the Nagano Games was “coexistence with the beauty of nature and its beautiful resources.” Consistent with this goal, new land development was avoided where possible, and various measures were utilized for the recycling of resources. In the Seventh Winter Paralympic Games held in Nagano from March 5 to 14, immediately following the Olympic Games, 34 events were contested and 580 athletes from 32 countries and districts participated. [Ibid]

A total of 2,339 athletes (1,512 men and 827 women) from 72 countries competed in the 1998 Olympics at Nagano. The opening ceremony features half naked sumo wrestlers stomping barefoot in the freezing cold and a satellite-linked simulcast performance of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" from five continents into a stadium shaped liked the petals of a cherry blossom.

Visitors to Nagano for the 1998 Winter Olympics were charmed by smiling clerks and waiters, phones with electronic images of bowing women, dial-a-translator services at restaurants, shops that listed the hobbies of store employees in their windows and signs that warned foreigners not to take a bath with their bathing suit on. High-tech features included ski jump suits with vertical grooves intended to help ski jumpers float; $750 butane-fueled jackets with three-hour gas cartridges in the pockets and small exhaust ducts in the back to keep wearers warm; Dick Tracy-style wrist-telephones used by the referees; VIP vehicles for the athletes that had special devices that causes traffic lights to turn green when the vehicle approached.

There were some complaints by athletes about the downhill course and rooms with futons instead of beds but most were pleased with their souvenir Snowlets condoms. Snowlets were the owl-like mascots for the games.

After the games, Nagano was more than $6 billion in debt. The expensive luge and bobsled course was largely unused. One of hockey rink was made into a swimming pool. Other venues had a hard time just coming up with money to cover their maintenance fees.

Nagano Olympics, Scandals and Money

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Nagano speed skating rink
The Nagano Olympic Committee was accused of being involved in some shady activities. It reportedly took a $200,000 kickback from a Sumitomo Heavy Industries in return for a construction contract. There was also an investigation of a mysterious deposit of $230,000 into the account of Italian Olympic committee member who inexplicably voted for Nagano instead of Valle d'Aoasta in his own country.

Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, one of the richest men in the world in the 1980s, had a personal dream of bringing the Olympics to Nagano, which was his home town and contains a number of hotels and ski resorts owned by him. According to one report met with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Antonio Samarach in a Tokyo hotel and offered him $20 million to finance his pet project an Olympic museum, in return for help of bring the games to Nagano.

When the IOC visited Nagano, members were given first class plane tickets and welcomed with sushi feasts, geishas and luxurious hot baths. The bill alone for Samarach’s two week stay in Nagano was $80,000. The Nagano committee not only spent lavishly in Nagano they spent just as much and sent a 1,000-member team in 1991 to Birmingham, where the voting for 1998 games took place.

On the eve of the voting, all the I.O.C. members were invited to a huge estate outside Birmingham for a banquet of sushi, piled on little miniature boats, and prepared by one of Britain’s most famous sushi chefs. The Nagano committee says it spent $18 million on its bid, other estimated the true figure was around $65 million.

When the Nagano Olympic committee was asked to produce documents relating to the scandals and a $28 million deficit, the committee said the 90 volumes of carefully-maintained accounting books had mysterious disappeared. What happened to the books remained a mystery until 1999, when the Salt Lake City Olympic scandal broke, and Nagano committee vice secretary-general Sumikazu Yamaguchi admitted, "I ordered them burned. I didn't want the I.O.C. members to feel uncomfortable." One reason why the Salt Lake City Olympic committee engaged in corrupt practices to get the Olympics for 2002 is because it felt it lost an earlier bid to Nagano because Nagano spent more money and gave more expensive gifts to IOC members than it did.

Success of Japanese Athletes at Nagano in 1998

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1998 Opening Ceremonies
A total of 166 Japanese athletes took part in the games in Nagano. Japan won 10 medals, including five golds (two in ski jumping, one in speed skating, one in freestyle skiing and one in short track speed skating), two more than it had it won in all the previous Winter Olympics combined.

The first Japanese gold medal was won in the freestyle mogul skiing event by Tae Satoya, a bleached-hair ski bum who had never won a major competition before and finished only 11th in her first of two runs. She was the first Japanese woman to win a Winter Olympics gold medal. In the medal ceremony, she disgraced her country by keeping her hat on during the Japanese national anthem.

Five-foot-three Hiroyasu Shimizu, the smallest speed skater in the Olympics, became a national hero after winning the gold medal in the 500-meter speed-skating race. Standing only 5 foot 3 and known as "Little Giant, " he said, "Most Japanese are smaller than foreigners, and I wanted to show the world that even the smallest can win...This might sound a bit audacious but after I won the gold medal, it seemed that all Japanese athletes were upbeat. Nothing could beat them." He was the world record holder in 500 meter the event. He also won a bronze in the 1,000 meters speed skating.

Happy Harada and Japanese Ski Jumpers at Nagano in 1998

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gold medal ski jumpers
One of Japan's best-known athletes is Masahiko Harada, a ski jumper who was one of the best ski jumpers in the world in the 1990s, winning numerous World Cup ski jumping events and two world championships, but had a history of coming with awful jumps at the worst possible moments in Olympic competition. The Japanese nicknamed him "Happy" Harada because he always smiled even after the most embarrassing defeats.

At the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, the Japanese ski jumpers looked like they had the gold medal all sewn up in the 90-meter team competition. With only Harada to go they were so far ahead that the other athletes had begun congratulating them. But then Harada messed up his take off and had a terrible second jump (landing 40 meters short of his best jump at that distance). Harada collapsed in humiliation as Japan had to settle for the silver metal.

At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Harada was the leader after the first jump in the 90-meter individual competition but then faltered on his second jump and finished 5th. In the 120-meter event in 1998, Harada was sixth after the first jump and seemed unlikely to win a medal but came through with a brilliant 136-meter second jump, the longest of the competition, and won a bronze medal.

Harada looked like he was back to his choking ways when he jumped only 79.5 metes in his first jump in the 120-meter team event but more than redeemed himself when he soared 137 meters on his second jump to give the gold medal to Japan. Harada was so happy and relived after getting a medal in began weeping uncontrollably during the post-competition interview, and wept again in the post jump press conference, and again at the drug testing. The Japanese reporters who interviewed him also wept as did the anchorman and women in main studio.

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Kazuyoshi Funaki, star at the
1998 Olympics in Nagano
The drama surrounding Harada almost overshadowed the achievements of Kazuyoshi Funaki, another ski jumper, who won two gold medals (in the 120-meter individual and 120-meter team jumps) and a silver medal in the 90 meter jump at Nagano. Funaki had two good jumps in the team competition as did the two other members of the team. Regarded as one of the most technically precise jumpers ever, Funaki has won numerous World Cup ski jumping events in late 1990s, and captured the prestigious Four Hills title.

Other notable Japanese ski jumpers include Norkiaki Kasai, a bleach blonde ski jumper who won several World Cup ski jump events; Hideharu Miyahira has also won a World Cup ski jump events; and Okabe Takanobu, who was a meber of the Olympic teams that won silver n 1994 and gold in 1998.

Japan at the Winter Games in 2002

Japan won 2 medals (1 silver and 1 bronze) at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Freestyle skier Tae Satoya won a bronze medal in women’s moguls. She won the gold in 1998 and was the first Japanese woman to win two Olympic medals. Speed skater Hiroyasu Shimizu won a silver in the 500 meter speed skating. He missed the gold by 0.03 seconds. He said he was deeply disappointed by the silver medal. He was lucky though that the favorite Jeremy Wotherspoon of Canada fell in the first leg of the race.

Overall the Japanese were disappointed with their performance. Their ski jumpers, snowboarders, short track speed skating, figure skaters and other speed skaters failed to come through. Takeshi Honda put on a great performance in the men’s figure skating but had to settle for forth.

The most memorable incident involving Japanese was the arrest of three drunk Japanese cross-country ski coaches for pointing a biathlon rifle at a police officer from the window of their hotel as part of a joke. The incident was particularly stupid in light that security was very tight and the games were held only a few months after the September 11 terrorist attack.

Japan at the Winter Games in 2006

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Arakawa
Japan won 1gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. A total of 114 Japanese athletes took part in the games. The 63 men and 51 women comprised a larger group than the 109 that participated in Salt Lake City in 2002. Japan also won only one medal in 1988 in Calgary.

The speed skating team was disappointingly weak. The women’s team pursuit speed skating team qualified in the bronze medal match because their opponent in their previous match fell down. The Japanese team also fell down to finish forth. In other events Japanese athletes also came close. Kentaro Minagawa placed forth in the men’s slalom and was within 0.03 second of winning a medal. Aiko Uemara finished fifth in the women’s moguls. But mostly there were disappointments. In his 5th Olympics, ski jumper Masahiko Harada was disqualified for violating the rule on ski length.

See Arakawa Under Figure Skaters

Japanese-Americans fare betters, Apollo Ohno won a gold medal in the 500-meter short track skating event. He also won two bronzes, in the 1000 meters individual and team relay events. Twenty-nine-year-old Rena Inoue won a bronze medal in the pair skating with John Baldwin eight years after overcoming lung cancer. She skated for Japan in the 1992 and 1994 Olympics. She came to the United States in 1999 after graduating from Tokyo’s Wasada University.

Japan at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver

At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver Japan won three silvers (in women’s figure skating, men’s 500 meter speed skating, and women’s 3,000 meter pursuit speed skating) and two bronzes (in men’s figure skating and the men’s 500 meter speed skating) but was unable to win any golds and won far fewer medals than China or South Korea, which took home 11 total medals and 14 total, respectively. However Japan did better than it did in 2006 in Turin when it won only one medal and 2002 in Salt Lake City when it won only two. Among the medal hopefuls that fell short were defending world champion Aiko Uemura who placed forth in the women’s moguls.

The medal winners were: 1) Mao Asada, who won a silver medal in women’s figure skating; 2) Daisuke Takahashi, who took the bronze in the men’s figure skating; 3) Keichiro Nagashima and 4) Joji Kato, who won the silver and bronze medal respectively in the men’s 500 meter speed skating, and 5) Masako Hozumi, Nao Kodaira and Maiko Tabata, who won the silver in the women’s 3,000 meter team pursuit in speed skating. The women speed skaters missed gold by just 0.02 seconds, finishing behind Germany by that margin in the event final. It was Japan best ever women’s speed skating result and first medal since Tomomi Okazaki won a bronze at Nagano in 1998. For their performance Nagashima was given $100,000 and Joji was given $60,000 from their employer Nidec Sankyo Corp, with half the money coming from the pocket of the company’s president.

Japan sent a 94-member team to Vancouver and competed in a wide range of events and placed forth, fifth, six and seventh in a lot of them.Snowboarder Kazuhiro Kokubo was barred from attending the Opening Ceremonies by Japan’s Olympics delegation because he wore his uniform in a way that was seemed inappropriate. On the plane trip to Vancouver he wore his official team trousers below the waist with his shirt untucked and his tie loosened.

Thirty-eight-year-old speed skater Tomomi Okazaki appeared in her fifth Olympics in 2010 at Vancouver and said she hoped to be back for her sixth in Sochi as a mother. She didn’t win any medals in Vancouver (the only Olympic medal she has won was a bronze in the 500-meter event at the 1998 Nagano Games). Another skater who got some attention was figure skating Yuko Yawagichi who changed her nationality to become a Russian citizen so she could skate in the pairs competition with her Russian partner Akexander Smirnov.

See Figue Skating

Sara Takanashi and Women’s Ski Jump

In November 2012, Kyodo reported from Lillehammer, Norway: Sara Takanashi came from behind with a 98-meter jump to win the women's individual normal hill event at a World Cup meet.The 16-year-old Takanashi was in third place after a first-round jump of 96 meters, but her second effort was enough to secure her a second World Cup win with 265.2 points. Last season's overall champion Sarah Hendrickson of the United States was second with 261.4 points and Norway's Anette Sagen was third with 258.9. Yuki Ito placed 17th and Ayumi Watase was 30th. [Source: Kyodo, November 26, 2012]

"My timing was a bit off on the first jump," said Takanashi, who won her first World Cup event in Japan in March. "I was able to put that right on the second jump and I felt it was my best of the season, so my fist-pumping celebration came spontaneously."

In the 2011-2012 season many of the events were were battles between American Sarah Hendrickson and Sara Takanashi, with Hendrickson emerging as the season winner and Takahashi finishing second. In a typical event Hendrickson won the competition with jumps on 104.0 and 99.0 meters but Takanashi jumped in total even a bit farther, 100.5 and 108.0 meters, but only got low style points for her really far second jump. [Ibid]

In January 2012, Takanashi won her first-ever Gold medal in an Olympic-level Women's Individual Ski Jumping competition---the Innsbruck 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games at Seefeld Arena. "It's an honour to come here and win this event," she said after her ground-breaking win at "I am very proud to win the first Youth Olympic Gold medal for Women's Ski Jumping here."

Takahashi is high school student from Hokkaido who stands at only 1.51 m tall. In her first season on the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup circuit was a consistently strong performer, and is currently third in the rankings. Rival Katharina Althaus of Germany said, "Sara is a very good ski jumper and in the World Cup. I have such great respect for her."

Sara Takanashi Suffers a Concussion and Wins Third Women's Ski Jump Event

In January 2013, AP reported: “Sara Takanashi of Japan won her third women's ski jump of the season, in Schonach-Schoenwald, Germany, to extend her lead in the World Cup standings. Takanashi dominated the event by landing 96.5 meters in both her jumps to earn a total of 242.1 points. Evelyn Insam of Italy was second with 224.3 points after jumps of 91.5 and 94.5 meters, while Daniela Iraschko of Austria finished third with 219.2. [Source: AP, Friday, January 4, 2013]

The next week Takanashi failed in a bid for a third straight women's ski jump World Cup victory when the Japanese teenager finished fourth in a meet in Schonach. The 16-year-old Takanashi had a disappointing first jump of 91.5 meters, leaving her in ninth place. She moved up with a second effort of 95.5, but came up 2.1 points short of a 13th consecutive podium. Norway's Anette Sagen captured her first World Cup title with 224.9 points, followed by Austria's Daniela Iraschko (224.3) and France's Coline Mattel (223.4). Takanashi leads the overall standings after six events with 490 points, 100 ahead of Iraschko. [Source: January 8, 2013)

In December 2012, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Takanashi crashed during a training run in Nayoro, Hokkaido, on Thursday morning. The 16-year-old took a tumble during training with the women's national team and suffered a blow to the head. Takanashi was transportted to a nearby hospital by ambulance. Her coach believes she suffered a concussion and Takanashi was given a CT scan. She also underwent tests that uncovered no structural damage, but was admitted to the hospital for precautionary measures. She is scheduled to undergo an MRI today, and will be released if the results show no damage. Takanashi went down on her first jump during a 9:40 a.m. training session. She lost her balance on the landing and fell headfirst. Takanashi won her second World Cup meet of the season a few days before, coming from behind in the final round at Ramsau, Austria. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 21, 2012]

Japanese Ski Jumping in 2012

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported from Lillehammer, Norway: Teenager Sara Takanashi got off a 100-meter jump, helping Japan place second in the inaugural ski jumping World Cup mixed-gender team event. Japan compiled 966 points under rainy conditions to finish second in the 13-nation competition to host Norway, which compiled 983.1 points. Italy was third with 899. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 25, 2012]

High schooler Yuki Ito and Yuta Watase combined with Takanashi and Taku Takeuchi, who had a 100-meter jump in the second round, in the event that will be included at next year's world championships. It is not on the program for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Japan was in third place in the first round before Takanashi moved it temporarily into first with her 100-meter effort. Norway's fourth jumper Anders Bardal put the host country on top, a position it never relinquished. [Ibid]

In March 2012, Reuters reported: “Daiki Ito saved his best until last to snatch both gold and the hill record away from Richard Freitag and claim back-to-back FIS Ski Jumping World Cup wins in Trondheim. Freitag put himself in pole position to top the podium in Norway after setting a new hill record with a leap of 140.5m in the opening round however Ito had other ideas. Placed second after the first round in Trondheim with an effort 137.5m, Ito bettered Freitag’s mark by a matter of centimetres, recording 141m to jump up into first and take gold. The 26-year-old, who won last time out in Lahti, ended with an overall total of 295.1 points while Freitag slipped to second after his second effort of 133m gave him just 287.9. [Source: Reuters, March 9, 2012]

Japan was second in the season-opening team ski jump event in Kuusamo, Finland in November 2011. Daiki Ito's 141.5m helped Japan to move from 4th to 2nd place on his last jump for a score of on 408.4 points

In January 2012, Taku Takeuchi of Japan took third in the third leg of the Four Hills Tour ski jumping competition in Innsbruck, Austria. AP reported: “World Cup leader Andreas Kofler won the third leg of the Four Hills Tour ski jumping competition, denying fellow Austrian Gregor Schlierenzauer the chance of earning the bonus prize of 1 million Swiss Francs ($1 million) for a clean sweep of four wins. Kofler, who won the Four Hills Tour in 2010, posted jumps of 127.5 and 131.5 meters for a total of 252.8 points to gain his 10th career World Cup victory. Schlierenzauer, who won the first two stops in Oberstdorf and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, finished second with efforts of 130.5 and 123 meters to trail Kofler by 5.2 points.Taku Takeuchi of Japan took third with 246.7 points. [Source: AP, January 5, 2012]

Ito was third in the first leg of the Four Hills Tour ski jumping competition in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. AP reported: “Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria put himself firmly in contention to repeat his success at Oberstdorf when he cleared 150 yards with his first jump. The 20-year-old's second, of 146 yards, was enough for 274.5 points overall. Another Austrian, Andreas Kofler, finished second with jumps of 142 and 150 yards for 270.4 points. Japan's Daiki Ito posted jumps of 151 and 154 but a poor landing on the second jump meant he finished third with 269.6 points. [Source: CNN January 1, 2012]

Ito placed second in a World Cup event in Harrachov, Czech Republic in November 2011. AP reported: “Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria won a ski jump World Cup event to become the first ski jumper this season to beat his teammate Andreas Kofler. Schlierenzauer took the lead after his first jump of 140.5 meters---the longest leap of the day---and added 128.0 meters in the second round for a combined total of 246.8 points and his 36th World Cup victory. Japan's Daiki Ito finished second, 1 point behind, and Anders Bardal was third. [Source: AP, November 9, 2011]

Veteran ski jumper Takanobe Okabe nailed a pair of solid jumps at a World Cup event at the age of 38 in Kuopio, Finland, becoming the oldest skier to win a World Cup event. His last victory was in March 1998.

Fumihisa Yumoto won a World Cup event in December 2008 in Italy.

Tabara gets Japan’s First Aerials Medal in a World Cup Meet

In January 2012, Kyodo reported: “Naoya Tabara became the first Japanese man to make the medals podium in the aerials event at a World Cup freestyle meet after taking bronze at Mont Gabriel in Sainte-Adele, Quebec,. The 31-year-old former gymnast finished third in the four-man final with 97.60 points. Russia's Pavel Krotov won gold with 112.79, while Olivier Rochon of Canada took the silver with 105.41. [Source: Kyodo, January 17, 2012]

Tabara's bronze was the best World Cup aerials result for Japan in 22 years. Chizuko Kudo placed second in the women's event at a meet in February 1990. "It is a surprise in a good sense," said Tabara. "I haven't made such difficult maneuvers as it is the start of the season and just wanted to be solid with my landings." "I am not at the level that I can be aiming for a podium finish every time and just want to ski consistently and remain in the final," he said.

Cross County Skiing and Japanese Athletes

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skier in 1928
Masako Ishia took third in the women’s 30-kilometer classical cross country World Cup race in Trondheimm Norway in March 2009. Modoka Natsumu came in third in a women’s sprint race in February 2009.

The World Nordic Ski Championships were held in Sapporo in 2007. Some of the events started and finished in the Sapporo Dome, marking the first time in he events history that parts of races were staged indoors.

Japan in the Nordic Combined

Japanese skiers pulled off a big surprise, wining the Nordic combined team gold medal at the world championships in Liberec, Czech Republic in March 2009. Fifth after the ski jump, their traditional strength, they won gold by placing first by the smallest of margins in the 4-x-5 kilometer cross country ski relay. The members pf the tam were Norihito Kobayashi, Akito Watabe, Taihe Kato and Yuske Minato.

Kenji Ogiwara was a top nordic combined skier in the 1990s. He won two world individual nordic combined titles in 1993 and 1997 and was on Olympic gold medal teams in 1992 and 1994 and world team title ins 1993 and 1995.

In January 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Japan's Akito Watabe made his first podium of the Nordic combined World Cup season, finishing second behind France's Jason Lamy Chappuis in Schonach, Germany. Lamy Chappuis, who was fifth after the ski jump, won the 10-kilometer cross country portion in 26 minutes flat, 1.9 seconds ahead of Watabe. Norway's Magnus Moan finished third, 4.9 seconds back. [Source: Jiji Press, January 6, 2012]

In the sixth individual meet of the season, Watabe finally overcame the problems with his jumping and turned in a 98.0-meter effort to finish third. Starting 32 seconds behind in the cross country, he quickly joined the lead group, which was narrowed to three by the halfway point. "When the snow is soft and I'm trailing, it's tougher to ski my race," said Watabe on his decision to move to the front, which is often a disadvantageous position. [Ibid]

But he maintained the pace and just barely lost a sprint to the finish with Lamy Chappuis, who won his second title this season and 22nd overall. Lamy Chappuis leads the overall standings with 455 points, followed by Moan with 383. Watabe and Germany's Eric Franzel are tied for third with 229. [Ibid]

In March 2012, Akito Watabe of Japan won a Nordic combined World Cup event, ahead of Mikko Kokslien of Norway. Watabe finished with a time of 26 minutes, 21.4 seconds, beating Kokslien by 7.9 seconds. Bernhard Gruber of Austria finished third. It was his fourth World Cup victory this winter. Overall World Cup leader Jason Lamy Chappuis of France finished 23rd, but still has a 72-point lead over second-place Watabe with just one race remaining. [Source: AP. March 9, 2012]

Before the last competition the Japanese is very close to the overall lead. As supposed Akito Watabe claimed a winning start in today's competition. After he was 20 seconds ahead after one jump from Midstubakken normal hill none could catch him. After nine kilometres the Fischer-athlete was round about 30 seconds in the lead and he slowed down to celebrate his victory early. Mikko Kokslien and Bernhard Gruber shortened the gap more and more down to eight seconds behind the winner.

One competition before season's end Akito Watabe is only 72 points behind Jason Lamy Chappuis in the Overall ranking. The Frenchman stated that he was very powerless with tired legs today and if he has the same problems tomorrow everything is possible for the Japanese. Tomorrow a originally Gundersen competition with two jumps and 15 kilometres cross-country is scheduled. [Ibid]

Olympics Moguls and Japanese Athletes

Aiko Uemura is a two time bronze Olympics medalist in the women’s moguls. She won the final four events if the 2007-2008 World Cup season---her first moguls wins in three years--- as well as the dual moguls title. Uemura also won the world championships in 2008-2009 season, winning the last five events of the season.

In June 2009 Uemura announced her engagement with Alpine skier Kentaro Minagawa, who just missed getting a bronze medal in the salom at the 2006 Olympics in Turin. The couple plans to get married after the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Satoya Tae won a gold medal in the moguls even at the Olympics in 1998 in Nagano and won a bronze at Salt Lake City in 2002. She finished 14th in Torino in 2006 and took some time off and returned o competition in 2008 at the age of 31.

Alpine Skiing and Japanese Athletes

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short track speed skating
Japanese Alpine skiers have never won an Olympic gold medal or a first place in a world championship. Akira Sasaki had two second place finishes in World Cup slalom events in 2003 and 2006 and almost got a medal at Turin in 2006. Tetsuya Okaba took a second and third in slalom events in 1988 and 1990.

In November 2012, AFP-Jiji reported: “Naoki Yuasa took a surprise third spot, 2.28 off the pace despite suffering from a painful back---the first skier from Japan to finish in the top three of a World Cup race since another slalom specialist, Akira Sasaki, was second at Shigakogen in 2006. Yuasa was one of the early skiers on the second leg---there were still 25 to race after he had finished---but he posted such a competitive time that it forced several racers to take risks with Deville the highest profile casualty, as he crashed out. While Neureuther eventually denied Yuasa a fairy-tale victory, his time was not nearly good enough to prevent Hirscher from storming to victory on a piste returning to the World Cup schedule after a seven year hiatus. [Source: AFP-Jiji, December 20, 2012]

Japanese Speed Skaters

The 500-meter men’s speed skating event has been a showcase for Japanese Olympic athletes. Since the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games, Japan has won a total of nine medals in the event, including the gold medal captured by Shimizu Hiroyasu at the Nagano Games, as well as a silver and a bronze medal won, respectively, by Nagashima Keiichiro and Kato Joji at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Keichiro Nagashima won a World Cup 500 meter speed skating event in November 2006, upstaging the world record holder in the event. In 2008, he won two 500 meter World Cup speed skating races. In Japan he dominates the 500 meters and 1000 meters. In January 2010, Nagashima won the men’s 500 meters at the World Sprint Speedskating Championships with a time of 35.01. See Olympics

Starting at Sarejevo in 1984, Japan went six consecutive Olympics with a medal in the men’s 500 meters speed skating race. The streak ended at Turin in 2006 but began again in Vancouver in 2010 when Japan won the silver and bronze in the event.

Shimizu retired in 2010 after failing to make it to the Vancouver Olympics, which would have been his fifth Olympics. In his career he won the gold in the 500 meters at the Nagano Olympics in 1998, a silver in the same event in Salt Lake City in 2002 and bronze in the 1000 meters in 1998. In addition he broke the 500 meter world record four times and won 34 World Cup 500 races, third on the all-time list.

Japanese-American short track speed skater Apolo Ohno became the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian when he came from last place on the final lap to take the bronze in the men’s 1,000 meter event at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. Ohno also won a silver in the 1,500 meters and a bronze in the 5,000 meter relay and left Vancouver with a career record of eight medals---two gold, two silvers and four bronze medals---breaking speed skater Bonnie Blair’s record of six Winter Olympics medals.

Joji Kato once held the world record in the 500 meter speed skating event. He took Japan’s lone medal---a silver---at the world speed skating championship in March 2011.

In January 2012, Kato won the 500 meters in 34.35 seconds at the world speed skating sprint championships in Calgary. Kato, a bronze medalist at the Vancouver Olympics, got off to a blazing start, covering the first 100 meters in 9.55 seconds and finishing just 0.05 seconds off his career best time. The event at Calgary was the second straight on a high-speed track--following last week's Salt Lake City meet--and Kato had predicted he would set a record at one of those meets. That coming from a man who has been unsatisfied by his recent results."For quite a while, I've been making adjustments but things haven't come together," Kato said. "But now, finally, I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel." [Source: Kai Nishimura, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 31, 2012] br />

Japanese Snowboarders and Ski Jumpers

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Ryo Aono has won men’s half pipe snowboard event in 2009. A Japanese snowboarder regarded as a medal hopeful in Turin tested positive for marijuana.

In the 2011-2012 season, Ryo Aono won several World Cup half pipe competitions and was at the top of the events’s standings.

In December 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Tomoka Takeuchi gave herself the perfect 29th birthday present--an historic victory in a snowboarding World Cup parallel giant slalom. Takeuchi became the first Japanese to win a title in the event on the World Cup circuit with a victory in the season-opening meet on Friday in Carezza, Italy. Takeuchi, who was sixth-fastest in the qualifying round, made her way through the ladder-style tournament to reach the final, where she defeated Canada's Caroline Calve, who fell on the first run. "This is really a happy day," Takeuchi wrote on her Twitter account. [Source: Jiji Press, December 23, 2012]

It marked the seventh time the Asahikawa, Hokkaido, native has made it to the podium, but the first to make the top step. She has finished second five times, three in the giant slalom and twice in slalom. Takeuchi has long been the top hope in the sport for Japan, since making the team to the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics while still a student at Clark Memorial International High School in Hokkaido. [Ibid]

After finishing ninth in the parallel giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Olympics, Takeuchi moved to Switzerland to improve her technique. In 2009 her efforts paid off with four World Cup second places and a fourth in the giant slalom at the world championships. Hopes were high for Takeuchi heading into the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but she failed to live up to the expectations and placed a disappointing 13th in the parallel giant slalom. [Ibid]

In the final race of that season's World Cup season, she posted her fifth career second-place, in a parallel slalom, but was unable to carry the momentum. Her highest finish in the 2011-12 season was fourth in a parallel giant slalom. According to her blog, Takeuchi fell during a training session in late November, suffering a bruised shin and calf that sidelined her for two weeks. "It took quite awhile to finally stand on top [of the podium]," Takeuchi was quoted as saying on the FIS Snowboard website. "I didn't expect this because I wasn't riding that much before. I just got back eight days ago.” [Ibid]

Slalom specialist Akira Sasaki has finished second three times in World Cup races.

Image Sources: 1) 2) 4) 5) 8) Japanese Olympic Committee 3) Nagano Prefecture 6) Japan Zone 7) Wikipedia 9) Japan Skating Federation 10) Japan Ski Association

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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