Japan athletes make good start in Beijing, help brighten atmosphere

Japanese athletes have won a number of medals in the early days of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Their ability to display their strengths on this great stage, which comes around once every four years, reflects the strict training they have gone through.

Ski jumper Ryoyu Kobayashi won Japan’s first gold medal at this Games in the men’s normal hill individual event. His gold was also Japan’s first in any ski event in 24 years since the Nagano Games.

Kobayashi is called an “alien” by his rivals, out of respect for his beautiful jumping style and excellent technique in taking off from the ramp. He has had slumps in the past, but he worked on the ground to improve the basics of his take-offs, among other measures, and has seven World Cup wins this season.

Kobayashi’s ability to jump so beautifully amid the expectations that he was the No. 1 favorite to win gold is likely the result of his steady efforts and mental strength that is undaunted by strong pressure.

Following the Nagano Games, Japanese ski jumping teams have sometimes been unable to perform well, partly due to rule changes. It is hoped that Kobayashi’s gold medal will lead to the rejuvenation of Japan’s ski jumpers.

Ikuma Horishima grabbed a bronze medal in the men’s moguls event in freestyle skiing. After finishing 11th at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, he underwent training for figure skating and snowboarding, and continued to polish his technique.

It is splendid that Horishima bounced back from 16th in the first qualification round and put on an aggressive performance in the final.

In the women’s moguls event, Anri Kawamura had aimed to become the youngest Japanese woman ever to medal at a Winter Olympics but was unable to do so. She is still 17 years old, and it is hoped that she will make even greater progress ahead of the next Games.

Speed skater Miho Takagi took silver in the women’s 1,500 meters, following her silver medal at the Pyeongchang Games. She holds the world record in the event, but fell just short of the gold medal this time.

Takagi attracted attention as a “super junior high school athlete” and is the captain of Japan’s delegation at the Beijing Games.

The number of specialists in different distances is increasing, but Takagi has a strong will to skate in several events and participates in five at the Beijing Games. It is hoped that she will earn more medals in her remaining three events.

Japan clinched a bronze medal in the team figure skating competition, which comprises men’s and women’s singles, pairs and ice dancing. Each Japanese figure skater displayed their particular abilities and proved that Japan has a large pool of capable athletes in this sport, including Yuma Kagiyama, who had the highest score in the men’s single free skating.

The bronze medal in the team competition will surely be a boost for participants in the individual competitions, including Yuzuru Hanyu, who is aiming for his third consecutive Olympic title in the men’s single skating.

The Beijing Games are being held amid the United States and Europe’s intensifying confrontations with China and Russia over China’s human rights abuses and the situation in Ukraine. The superlative performances of the athletes contrast with the grim atmosphere surrounding the Games, and teach us the preciousness of peace.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 8, 2022.