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Daisuke Takahashi takes silver at Japanese Nationals, declines world spot

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Daisuke Takahashi finished second at Japan’s figure skating championships, then declined a world championships spot, allowing a younger skater to take his place in his return from a four-year retirement.

The 32-year-old Takahashi took silver behind Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno, who earned his third straight national title with Yuzuru Hanyu again absent for health reasons.

In the women’s event, Olympic sixth-place finisher Kaori Sakamoto upset Grand Prix Final winner Rika Kihira, while 2018 World silver medalist Wakaba Higuchi was fifth, ending her bid to return for March’s worlds in Japan. Sakamoto and Kihira are joined on the world team by two-time medalist Satoko Miyahara.

Takahashi, older than any Olympic singles skater since 1952, fell once and had no quadruple jumps in Monday’s free skate but maintained his second-place spot from the short program. He finished nearly 50 points behind Uno, who is going to worlds with Hanyu and Keiji Tanaka.

“I never imagined that I could take a medal at nationals,” Takahashi said, according to the Japan Times. “I have not decided my future yet.”

Takahashi last competed internationally at the Sochi Winter Games, taking sixth, four years after becoming both the first Japanese male Olympic figure skating medalist (bronze) and world champion.

“It took me nearly 4 years from then, but now I would like to face fully with figure skating, and for me to catch up on my skating from the old days, I realized that returning to the competition is the answer,” Takahashi said on his website in announcing his comeback on July 1. “Being away for 4 years, I understand that it will be beyond my imagination of how difficult it may be for me to get back in the game.”

Takahashi won two other world championships silver medals and finished eighth or better at every worlds and Olympics at which he skated from 2006 through Sochi.

He helped usher in an internationally accomplished generation of Japanese men’s skaters.

“I asked him for advice, and he has helped me many times,” Hanyu said in a statement when Takahashi retired, according to Agence France-Presse. “As a skater … he will always be someone I look up to.”

The fourth son of a hairdresser and an architect, Takahashi opted not to follow his brothers into karate.

He would become one of the beloved athletes in the sport, adored in Japan as a five-time national champion. Fans were brought to tears when it was announced in the arena at the 2013 Japanese Championships that he was placed on the three-man Olympic team despite finishing fifth at that event.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Japan Olympic legend avenges first home loss in 17 years in comeback

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Japanese wrestler Kaori Icho is off to a strong start in a bid to be the first person to earn individual gold medals at five Olympics.

Icho, 34, won a national title after taking two years off after the Rio Games, beating fellow Olympic champion Risako Kawai in Sunday’s 57kg final. A day earlier, Kawai handed Icho her first loss to a countrywoman in 17 years, according to Kyodo News.

This weekend’s Emperor’s Cup was the first event of a two-pronged qualification for September’s world championships and is the first tournament with Olympic qualifying implications in Japan, according to United World Wrestling.

“I felt a kind of nervous tension like I hadn’t in a long time,” Icho said of her second tournament back, according to Kyodo. “I still have room to grow, to improve, and now I want to take stock of the issues that arose with my performance today and make use of those lessons.”

Icho earned 58kg gold in Rio, while Kawai, a decade younger, was the 63kg champion. Kawai earned 59kg and 60kg world titles the last two years.

The weight classes alter slightly for Tokyo 2020 with 57kg and 62kg divisions.

Icho once held a 13-year win streak and owns 10 world championships.

She is already the oldest female Olympic wrestling champion (women’s wrestling was added to the Olympic program in 2004, Icho’s first Games). By 2020, she will be older than any men’s wrestling champion since Bulgarian Valentin Yordanov in 1996.

Icho is the lone woman to earn individual gold medals at four Olympics, joining a group of men including Michael PhelpsCarl Lewis and Al Oerter.

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Tokyo Olympics to have two cauldrons for Olympic Flame

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For a second straight Summer Olympics, there will be two cauldrons for the Olympic Flame.

The 2020 Tokyo Games will have the traditional cauldron inside the Olympic Stadium and a second in the Japanese capital’s bustling waterfront area, organizers confirmed Monday.

A second cauldron at the Ariake side of the Yume-no-Ohashi Bridge will be added to allow “the wider public to view it and experience the spirit and excitement of the Games.” The Flame will be displayed in one location at a time.

At the last Summer Games, a second cauldron was placed at Candelaria Church in downtown Rio. That decision was made in part because the stadium for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, the Maracanã, did not hold track and field events and thus would not be used for almost all of the Games. The cauldron lit inside the Maracanã was also not visible from outside the stadium.

The 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist Vanderlei de Lima lit the Maracanã cauldron. A former homeless boy, 14-year-old Jorge Gomes, lit the outdoor cauldron, according to the CBC.

In 2010, the Vancouver Winter Games had two cauldrons — one inside in the indoor ceremonies venue (and thus not viewable from the outside) and one outside in the city of Vancouver for the public to view.

Wayne GretzkySteve Nash and Nancy Greene lit the indoor cauldron (joined by Catriona Le May Doan, whose part of the cauldron malfunctioned). Then Gretzky was driven by a police escort to light the outdoor cauldron.

The first Olympics with two cauldrons was Helsinki 1952, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon.

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