Japan is sending record number of athletes to Beijing Winter Olympics with high hopes

By Wang Zijiang (Xinhua) 14:29, January 24, 2022

TOKYO, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- Japan has announced its largest-ever overseas Winter Olympic team and also expects to win a record medal tally at the Beijing Olympic Winter Games, which will be held from February 4 to 20.

A total of 124 athletes, including 49 men and 75 women, are among the 262-member delegation, exceeding the 123 sent to Pyeongchang four years ago. Only the 1998 Nagao Winter Olympics, in which Japan sent 156 athletes, had a bigger team thanks to their home advantage.

The Japanese athletes will enter 109 disciplines, seven more than the Pyeongchang games when they made history by winning four gold, five silver and four bronze medals.

Yasuhiro Yamashita, president of the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC), told Xinhua in an earlier interview last year, that Japanese athletes will put up great performances.

"Our athletes are very strong in both summer and winter events. I attended the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and look forward to visiting Beijing again next February. I think our athletes will achieve very good results in Beijing," he told Xinhua.

Men's figure skating superstar Yuzuru Hanyu, who has millions of Chinese fans, will be one of the most anticipated faces coming into this Olympics. The 27-year-old will become the first man to win three consecutive Olympic figure skating gold in 94 years if he retains the title.

He gave the world a glimpse of hope at the Japanese national championship last December by landing a quadruple axel with two feet while easily outpacing Shoma Uno and Yumi Kagayami to win the title for the seventh time.

Competing in his first tournament in eight months because of an ankle injury, Hanyu said he is ready to take the challenge in Beijing.

"The Olympics is a place you must win," he said. "For that reason, I'll be strongly determined."

America's three-time world champion Nathan Chen will pose the biggest threat to Hanyu and the other Japanese skater Uno, who earned silver in men's singles in Pyeongchang, is also looking to earn a medal.

The world's top women skaters will feel relieved as Japan's Mai Mihara narrowly missed out on a spot in Beijing after finishing fourth at the national championship. She bounced back from the disappointment to win gold for the second time in the ISU Four Continents Championships last Saturday.

Kaori Sakamoto, who won the national championship, will lead a trio of Japanese athletes on the women's side.

Ayumu Hirano, the 2014 and 2018 silver medalist in the men's snowboard halfpipe has maintained great form this season, winning this season's World Cup series and finishing second at X Games last weekend.

Ayumu, his younger brother Kaishu Hirano and world champion Yuto Totsuka will join hands in Beijing trying to seal the gold medal for Japan in front of three-time Olympic champion Shaun White of the United States.

Japanese female snowboarders are strong with Sena Tomita just winning the X Games halfpipe last week and teammate Haruna Matsumoto taking the third. Reira Iwabuchi, Kokomo Murase and Mitsuki Ono will also have medal chances either in halfpipe or slopestyle.

Nordic combined skier Akito Watabe is still hoping to win a gold medal after finishing second twice in 2014 and 2018. He has won confidence from the Japanese Olympic Committee who selected him as a flagbearer at the opening ceremony at Beijing's iconic Bird's Nest stadium on the night of Feb. 4.

The 33-year-old, a former overall Nordic combined World Cup champion, will compete in his fifth straight Winter Games.

Ryoyu Kobayashi, who took a second overall World Cup win this season, is likely to keep Japan's good tradition in ski jumping, which earned the country their first winter Olympic gold medal at the 1972 Sapporo games.

None of Japan's four gold medals in Pyeongchang came from snow and this time it seems that they will do much better. At the same time, with three of the four speed skaters who won the three gold medals four years ago qualifying for Beijing, they are still hopeful for a repeat of the past glorious moments.

Miho Takagi will not only lead the speed skating team but also the whole Japanese squad. The 27-year-old, who won a medal of each color - gold in the pursuit, silver in 1,500m and bronze in 1,000m in Pyeongchang, has been named the captain of the Olympic team.

Takagi, who is set to enter five events in Beijing, will be a favorite to win the women's 1,500 meters and team pursuit.

"We'll strive to be our strongest, no matter what challenges we meet," she said. 

(Web editor: Peng Yukai, Liang Jun)


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