Japan at the Olympics

If you’re interested in finding another angle in Sochi, why not track the delegation from Japan? Here’s a brief rundown of who’s competing where.

Flag Bearer

In 2006, women’s curler Ayumi Ogasawara, was the skip of Team Aomori, Japan’s representative in Turin. They only placed 7th, but pulled off an upset over world power and eventual bronze-winner Canada. This will be her 3rd Olympics, this time as skip for Sapporo CC.

Alpine Skiing

Japan will field 8 skiers in the traditional downhill events. Japan last medaled in this discipline in 1956, when Chiharu Igaya earned silver in the Men’s Slalom. Cortina d’Ampezzo was also the only time they medaled.

Biathlon

One male skier will be running and gunning in the biathlon. It’s possible the women’s side is fielding a four-person relay team, but info is not as plentiful as I had hoped.

Bobsled

Japan has a sled in both the men’s 2- and 4-man events. Their world rankings are somewhere in the middle, but each event has 30 sleds, so that’s a lot of middle to make up.

Cross-Country Skiing

Six skilled skiers seeking success saw Sochi selections.

Curling

Both the men’s and women’s sides had to enter a qualifying tournament to get one of the last two spots in Sochi. The men finished dead last with a 1-6 record. They won’t be making the trip. The Ogasawara-led women’s team went 5-1 in round robin play, earning the 2nd seed. They lost their first chance to qualify, losing to top-seeded China 7-6, but picked up the second spot, demolishing Norway 10-4. The US Men’s Curling Team made it to Sochi in similar fashion.

Figure Skating

Reigning Grand Prix Finals champs Yuzuru Hanyu and Mao Asada lead a rather stacked team into Sochi. Hanyu’s teammate Tatsuki Machida finished 4th in the GP Final while Daisuke Takahashi is a GP Finals winner, World Champion (2010) and 3-time Olympian (with a bronze in 2010). On the women’s side, Asada has a silver from Vancouver plus 2 World Championships. 4 GP Finals, and SIX national championships. Along with Kanako Murakami and Akiko Suzuki, each medaling in major championships, Japan may be paying more attention on Figure Skating than America!

As a fun aside, the Ice Dancing team is siblings Cathy and Chris Reed from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Their mother is Japanese and they renounced their American citizenship in 2009 in the middle of earning five Japan national championships themselves. Also, keep an eye on the Pairs team, as it’s their first major international competition together. (I wasn’t supposed to spend 150 words on figure skating, was I?)

Freestyle Skiing

WC bronze-medalist Ayana Onozuka leads the two-women and one-man Halfpipe team. On the moguls, you have dual silver winner Miki Ito and FIVE-TIME OLYMPIAN Aiko Uemura leading 2 men and 3 total women. Finally, Chiho Takao represents Japan for women’s slopestyle.

Hockey

Ranked 10th in the world, the women’s hockey team had to survive a round robin qualifier against Denmark, Norway, and Slovakia. Two wins and a shootout loss later, they’re the only Division I A team to crash Sochi. (The other seven are in the “Championship” division.)

Luge

Hidenari Kanayama, good luck and godspeed.

Nordic Combined

Japan will field a full team of five. Because there was only be one Nordic event until 1988 (and a third was added in 2002) Japan’s 3 medals in this combination of jumping and cross-country skiing is tied for 6th most in the world, all-time.

Speed Skating, short track

All three of the men will participate in the 1500m, with Satoshi Sakashita being the only one doing 500m (the others will do 1000m). The women have three entrants in all three of those distances as well as the 5-member 3000m relay.

Speed Skating, long track

Four of Japan’s seven men will race 500m while Taro Kondo will be the only man trying two events (1000m and 1500m). The women’s side sends TEN skaters, each doing two events. The choices: 3000m and 5000m, 500m and 1000m or 1500m and team pursuit.

Japan already has 15 medals in this discipline, which is 10th most in the world, all-time. It’s also more medals than the country has earned in any other sport. (Ski jumping has yielded nine, but more on that later.)

Skeleton

Nozomi Komuro is technically a two-time Olympian, except her sled was not certified as up to standard, so she did not compete in Vancouver. Yuki Sasahara and Hiroatsu Takahashi represent the men’s side.

Ski Jumping

Five men and three women will take part in skiing’s original Big Air competition. Three of Japan’s nine Gold Medals in the Winter Games have come from this discipline, more than any other.

Snowboarding

A total of eight will compete across the various snowboard events. The four-man halfpipe contingent includes Ayumu Hirano, who was the subject of an X Games commercial recently.

All told, Japan will send 136 athletes to Sochi, one of only ten countries to send 100+. (There are 88 countries represented this year.) Hockey leads all disciplines with 21 athletes, followed by long track skating (17), figure skating (14), and freestyle skiing (11). After hosting the 1998 Games and earning a national record 10 medals (5 gold), Japan has only earned 8 medals in total with their only gold coming in Turin.

Will Japan return to the glory of Nagano or will the Russian winter leave them feeling cold once more? It’s going to be a fun two weeks.