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Survey shows Japan’s favorite sports for Tokyo Olympics

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Japanese men and women are most interested in swimming, gymnastics and the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics, according to a survey published Friday.

The survey, conducted in April with 1,207 responses from men and women 20 years and older, according to Kyodo News, revealed the following favorite sports for the 2020 Tokyo Games:

  1. Swimming
  2. Gymnastics
  3. Track and Field (Marathon)
  4. Baseball/Softball
  5. Table Tennis
  6. Soccer
  7. Judo
  8. Volleyball
  9. Track and Field (Non-Marathon)
  10. Tennis

Japan has a history of success in many of those sports.

Kosuke Kitajima is regarded by many as the greatest breaststroker in history after sweeping the 100m and 200m at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Before winning any Olympic medals, Kitajima was invited to the Imperial Palace to meet Emperor Akihito. He later moved to Los Angeles to get away from the celebrity lifestyle in Japan.

Japan has active star swimmers in Kosuke Hagino, who won the 400m individual medley in Rio, and Rikako Ikee, a promising 17-year-old sprint freestyler and butterflier.

Japan is also home to the man regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time — Kohei Uchimura, who won all eight Olympic and world all-around titles from 2009 through 2016. Japan once had a men’s gymnastics dynasty — winning every Olympic team title from 1960 through 1976 — and captured team gold in 2004 and 2016.

Some of Japan’s most memorable Olympic moments came in the marathon —Koichi Morishita‘s silver medal in 1992 and then Naoko Takahashi and Mizuki Noguchi‘s back-to-back women’s marathon gold medals in 2000 and 2004.

Japan won the last Olympic softball title in 2008, upsetting the U.S. in the final. Baseball and softball return to the Olympics in 2020 for the first time since the 2008 Beijing Games and are not guaranteed to remain on the Olympic program beyond Tokyo.

The survey also asked respondents to name their favorite athletes, foreign or domestic, with the following results:

1. Shohei Ohtani (Baseball)
2. Ichiro (Baseball)
3. Yuzuru Hanyu (Figure Skating)
4. Kei Nishikori (Tennis)
5. Mao Asada (Figure Skating, retired)
6. Shigeo Nagashima (Baseball, retired)
7. Hideki Matsuyama (Golf)
8. Hayato Sakamoto (Baseball)
8. Hideki Matsui (Baseball, retired)
10. Senichi Hoshino (Baseball, died in January at age 70)

Of those athletes, Nishikori, Matsuyama and Sakamoto could compete in the Tokyo Olympics. MLB players, like Ohtani, are not expected to debut in the Olympics in 2020.

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MORE: Will Japan’s Olympic legend return for Tokyo 2020?

Softball star Danielle Lawrie unretires for sport’s Olympic return

Danielle Lawrie
Charles Blackburn
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Two-time NCAA Player of the Year Danielle Lawrie-Locke is coming out of a three-year retirement as softball readies for its Olympic return in 2020.

Lawrie-Locke, a 31-year-old Canadian pitcher with two daughters, advanced from a preliminary national team selection camp in January to a final camp from May 30-June 10 that will determine the 17-player roster for the world championship in August.

“I never thought I would be playing into my 30s, but I also think when you are married and have kids … I think you start to get an itch for some type of competitiveness again,” Lawrie-Locke said, according to the Langley Times in her native British Columbia. “The big light at the end of the tunnel is I want to try and get a medal at the 2020 Olympics with my family in the stands.”

Lawrie-Locke is one of the greatest players in NCAA history, one of three women to earn multiple NCAA Player of the Year Awards along with Cat Osterman and Keilani Ricketts. Before her University of Washington career, Lawrie-Locke made waves at the first World Cup of Softball in 2005, when, at age 18, she handed the U.S. its first defeat in three years.

Lawrie-Locke then led the University of Washington to a national title as a junior, her first of two straight seasons as NCAA Player of the Year. That came after she took a year off from the NCAA to play for Canada at the 2008 Beijing Games, thought to be softball’s final Olympics until the sport was added for Tokyo 2020 almost two years ago.

Lawrie-Locke pitched her final professional game in 2014 after having her first daughter, Madison, on Dec. 16, 2013. She and husband Drew Locke also have a 1-year-old daughter, Audrey.

Lawrie-Locke reportedly said she first thought about a comeback while watching the World Cup of Softball last August. She listened as analyst Michele Smith, a two-time U.S. Olympic champion pitcher, said she believed her own athletic peak came at age 34 or 35.

“At that moment, it hit me,” Lawrie-Locke said, according to the newspaper. “It just hit me when she said that, and it took me a couple of weeks to come to terms with the idea.”

Lawrie-Locke’s motivation partly stemmed from an unsatisfying 2008 Olympics. Canada lost its last four games, including in the semifinals, to finish fourth overall.

“I had a lot of bad emotions based on that ’08 experience,” Lawrie-Locke said, according to the newspaper. “(And) I was probably not as good a teammate as I should have been.” (She clashed with a Canadian coach, according to the Seattle Times.)

The world champion becomes the first nation to qualify for the Tokyo Games (Japan is already in as host nation). Softball, previously on the Olympic program from 1996 through 2008, is not guaranteed to remain in the Games beyond 2020.

The U.S. and Canada, ranked Nos. 1 and 3 in the world, can also qualify for the Olympics by finishing in the top two of the 2019 Pan American Championship.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Adam Rippon, Tonya Harding make Dancing with the Stars final

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Figure skaters Tonya Harding and Adam Rippon make up two-thirds of next week’s “Dancing with the Stars” final after three other Olympians were eliminated in Monday’s semifinals.

Figure skater Mirai Nagasu, luger Chris Mazdzer and softball pitcher Jennie Finch were eliminated. Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman joins Harding and Rippon in next week’s one-hour finale.

“It’s a mixture of I’m so excited to go to the finals, I’m so sad that Mirai won’t be there with me,” Rippon told “Entertainment Tonight.”

“I hope I get more opportunities like this,” Nagasu said.

Harding and Rippon were both in tears on Monday’s episode where athletes dedicated dances to loved ones. Harding dedicated hers to her dad, who died nine years ago.

“Whether I win doesn’t matter,” Harding said before scoring 33 out of a possible 40 points. “I don’t want to leave. … Thank you, America, from the bottom of my heart.”

DANCE VIDEOS: Finch | Harding | MazdzerNagasu | Rippon | Nagasu vs. Rippon | Finch vs. Harding

Eliminations were made combining judges scores with viewer voting.

Rippon was the only athlete to score a 10 in Monday’s individual dance.

He scored three of them shirtless, dressed in white pants with feathers draped across his upper back and shoulders and dancing in a birdcage to Coldplay’s “O (Fly On),” music he used in free skates the last two seasons.

Next week, Rippon and Harding look to become the third figure skater to win “Dancing with the Stars” after Kristi Yamaguchi and Meryl Davis.

Harding has now advanced further than Nancy Kerrigan did on the show one year ago.

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MORE: Full list of Olympians to appear on ‘Dancing with the Stars’