Nao Kodaira

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Who are Japan’s most visible athletes ahead of Tokyo Olympics?

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No surprise, Yuzuru Hanyu garnered the most major TV coverage of any Japanese athlete in 2018.

Nihon Monitor, a media research and analysis company in Japan, reported that the double Olympic champion figure skater received 186 hours, 26 minutes of TV time last year among six major domestic networks.

Other PyeongChang Olympic medalists made the list: figure skater Shoma Uno (fourth, 94 hours) and speed skaters Nao Kodaira (fifth, 87 hours) and Miho Takagi (sixth, 85 hours).

The only athlete in the top eight with Tokyo Olympic hopes was tennis player Naomi Osaka, who ranked third with 118 hours, one spot behind Los Angeles Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani (177 hours).

Three soccer players and yokozuna Hakuhō Shō rounded out the top 10.

Osaka, a 21-year-old born in Osaka to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, has lived in the U.S. since age 3. She won the U.S. Open in September in a memorable final with Serena Williams. She captured the next Grand Slam, the Australian Open in January, to become world No. 1.

“Every time the Japanese press is at a tournament they always talk about the Tokyo Olympics,” Osaka said in June, according to the Times of London.

Osaka just missed the 2016 Rio Games. She was 87th in the world on the rankings cutoff date. The lowest-ranked player to make the Olympic women’s singles field — outside of continental/tripartite/host country representation — was No. 86. Osaka could have been ineligible anyway because she had yet to compete for Japan in Fed Cup.

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Speed skating world records fall in Salt Lake City

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KEARNS, Utah (AP) — Japan’s Nao Kodaira and Canada’s Ted-Jan Bloemen broke world records on the final day of a World Cup speed skating event at the Utah Olympic Oval on Sunday.

Kodaira finished in 1 minute, 12.09 seconds in the women’s 1000m, her third race victory in three days. U.S. Olympian Brittany Bowe held the previous record of 1:12.18 from 2015.

The Dutch-born Bloemen finished in 6:01.86 in the men’s 5000m.

Dutch skater Sven Kramer held the previous record of 6:03.32 set in 2007 but was not in Sunday’s race on “The World’s Fastest Ice,” preferring to stay in Europe to train for the Olympic Trials.

“I always looked up to that old world record,” Bloemen, who took Kramer’s 10,000m world record in 2015, said, according to the International Skating Union. “That was such an epic race and Sven was so angry. His 6:03 was so much faster than all the ties that were ever skated, and even after that race no one actually has come close.”

Now marks the first time since 1998 that no Dutch man holds the world record in an individual Olympic event. Kramer is undefeated internationally over 5000m since 2012, according to Schaatsstatistieken.nl.

“I think I would have beaten him [today],” Bloemen said, according to the ISU. “At the first three World Cups this season you saw that the momentum was on my side. I got closer every race, and I think this would have been the final blow.”

Bowe improved on a pair of 13th-place finishes in the 500m on Friday and Saturday. She finished in 1:13.55 to place sixth in the 1000m.

Seeing her world record fall broke Bowe’s heart, but she took comfort in ending the weekend with her strongest performance over three days. She showed progress after losing significant time to head injuries a year ago.

“My skating felt better,” Bowe said. “The timing felt better. I feel like I was connecting and, yeah, I definitely felt stronger than I have so far this year.”

Russia’s Denis Yuskov won the men’s 1000m in 1:06.92, a half-second off Shani Davis‘ world record. Yuskov broke Davis’ eight-year-old 1000m world record Saturday.

Yuskov edged Dutchman skater Koen Verweij, who finished in 106.94. Russia’s Pavel Kulizhnikov followed in 1:06.96.

Jonathan Garcia was the top American, seventh with a personal best of 1:07.40. Joey Mantia was 10th, and Davis 12th.

Garcia came into the race with the goal of producing a top-six finish. He said his performance was about 90 percent of where he wants to be, but feels like he is on an upward trend ahead of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Garcia’s main goal is to simply not peak too early over the next two months.

“I know myself, I’ve been skating for 23 years.” Garcia said. “I can’t maintain being my best every day for six months or two months. I really have to make sure I strategically place myself where I need to be throughout the season.”

Russia’s Natalia Voronina took the women’s 3,000 in 3:57.70. The Czech Republic’s Martina Sablikova was second in 3:57.84, and Germany’s Claudia Pechstein finished third in 3:58.69.

The weekend marked the final World Cup before the U.S. Olympic Trials from Jan. 2-7

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MORE: 45-year-old speed skater eyes record 7th Olympics

Heather Bergsma wins World Cup race after rival crashes

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U.S. speed skater Heather Bergsma won her first World Cup race of the Olympic season, but it came after the top skater this fall crashed in Calgary on Saturday.

Bergsma, the reigning world 1000m and 1500m champion, clocked 1:13:37 to prevail by .33 of a second over Russian Yekaterina Shikhova.

After posting her leading time, the two-time Olympian Bergsma watched as Japanese favorite Nao Kodaira hit the ice and slid into padding in the final pair (video here).

Kodaira, who had won all six World Cup 500m and 1000m races this season, eventually got up and finished her race. She was a half-second faster than Bergsma after the first 200m split before crashing.

Full Calgary results are here.

Bergsma was the best skater at 1000m and 1500m last year, also claiming the season-long World Cup titles in each distance.

But Japanese skaters came out firing this fall. Kodaira, who took 500m gold and 1000m silver at last season’s worlds, and Miho Takagi combined to win the first eight World Cup races over 500m, 1000m and 1500m.

The 28-year-old Bergsma is the best hope to win the first female U.S. Olympic speed skating medal since 2002 come PyeongChang.

The World Cup continues with 500m, 1500m and mass start races in Calgary on Sunday.

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