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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Surfer Connor O'Leary Aims to Represent Japan at the Paris Olympics

With his nationality change authorized by the IOC, Australian-born surfer Connor O'Leary can channel his focus on competition, including the World Surf League.

The International Olympic Committee has approved a nationality change for surfer Connor O'Leary from Australian to Japanese, Jiji Press reported on Thursday, November 29.

This process was in the works for months.

Already, the global surfing community was aware of O'Leary's desire to represent the land of his mother Akemi Karasawa's birth in future competitions.

In August 2023, the World Surf League announced that O'Leary would compete as a Japanese participant on the 2024 WSL Championship Tour.

As part of the WSL's announcement, O'Leary explained his desire for the change.

"After much reflection and consideration, I am choosing Japan," O'Leary stated in an Instagram post. "I'm choosing to represent my family's heritage and my cultural background."

He will, however, continue to wear Japanese and Australian flags on his surf clothing, according to the WSL report.

O'Leary, 30, was the World Surf League Rookie of the Year in 2017.

His mother was a professional surfing champion in Japan.

In June 2023, the Nippon Surfing Association revealed that O'Leary had applied to change his nationality to Japanese. At the time of Japan's surfing governing body's announcement, O'Leary was the world's 12th-ranked male surfer.

Connor O'Leary
Pro surfer Connor O'Leary is seen in an October 2021 file photo. (World Surf League)

Connor O'Leary Targets a Spot on Japan's 2024 Olympic Team

With the nationality switch, O'Leary will aim to earn a spot on Team Japan for the 2024 Paris Olympics. The surfing competition will take place in Tahiti, half a world away.

"To be able to qualify for Australia would be great as well, but with where I am at in my career, [representing Japan is] such a great way to expand my horizon," O'Leary, who grew up near Sydney, was quoted as saying by Australian broadcaster SBS Japanese in an August 2023 feature.

O'Leary also wants to be a role model for the youth and aspiring surfers.

"There are many young talents coming up in Japan, and I hope to be that surfer they look up to, as there is really just Kanoa (Igarashi, current world No. 14) at the moment," O'Leary told SBS Japanese.


Kenta Maeda
Kenta Maeda participates in an online news conference on November 30. (KYODO)

It's just a shoe!


Maeda Joins Tigers on a Two-Year Deal

Veteran right-hander Kenta Maeda has finalized a two-year contract with the Detroit Tigers.

The American League club announced the $24 million USD (¥3.5 billion JPY) deal on Tuesday, November 28.

Maeda spent the past three seasons with the Minnesota Twins and was 6-8 with a 4.23 ERA in 2023 when he made 20 starts and had one relief appearance.

Kenta Maeda
Kenta Maeda pitches for the Minnesota Twins in a spring training game in March 2023. (ⒸSANKEI)

The Tigers view the 35-year-old Maeda as a key mentor for the team's pitching staff over the next couple of years.

"We think he's going to both help us win games and influence our young starters," Tigers general manager Scott Harris was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

Urawa Reds
Urawa Reds forward Jose Kante scores the match-winning goal against Wuhan Three Towns in Asian Champions League Group J competition on November 29 at Saitama Stadium. (KYODO)


Late Goal Propels Urawa Past Wuhan in ACL Group Stage Match

Forward Jose Kante scored a 90th-minute goal to lift the reigning Asian Champions League champion Urawa Reds to a 2-1 triumph over Chinese club Wuhan Three Towns on Wednesday, November 29.

Kante, a 70th-minute substitute, blasted a shot from outside the box to break the deadlock at Saitama Stadium.

It was a pressure-filled match for the Reds, who had a win, a draw and two defeats in their four previous Group J matches.

Without a win over Wuhan, Urawa would have had no shot at keeping alive its aspirations of reaching the ACL round of 16. With the win, the Reds are currently in the hunt for one of the berths awarded to runner-up teams in the group stage.

"I'm very excited about the game and about the goal and the three points," Kante said, according to Agence France-Presse. "It was really important for us to win."

Alexander Scholz gave the Reds a 1-0 lead in the 37th minute, converting a penalty. Wuhan then tied the score in the 68th minute.

Up next: The Reds face Hanoi FC in Vietnam in the teams' final group stage match on Wednesday, December 6.


Tokyo Verdy Secure Promotion Back to Top Flight

In 2024, Tokyo Verdy will return to the J.League first division for the first time since the 2008 season.

The capital city club earned a 1-1 draw in the J2 promotion playoff final against Shimizu S-Pulse. Itsuki Someno provided the scoring touch for the hosts in second-half stoppage time.

Based on the competition rules, Tokyo, which finished third in J2 in the 2023 season only needed a tie to secure promotion. Shimizu, which was fourth in the standings, needed a victory to earn a spot in J1 in 2024.

J2 champion Machida Zelvia and runner-up Jubilo Iwata already clinched spots in the J.League's top flight for next year.

Shimane Susanoo Magic guard Seiya Ando drives to the basket in a B.League game against the visiting Chiba Jets on December 1. (B.LEAGUE)


Shimane Whips Chiba in First Game After B.League's Autumn Break

In the B.League first division's first action in more than two weeks, the Shimane Susanoo Magic and Chiba Jets split a pair of games on Thursday and Friday, November 30 and December 1.

On Thursday, the Jets recorded an 87-83 win in the series opener. Five Chiba players scored in double figures in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, with DJ Stephens leading the offense with 19 points and John Mooney adding 13.

The Jets outrebounded the hosts 49-32.

Perrin Buford had a game-high 35 points for Shimane. Teammate Nick Kay scored 17 points.

On Friday, the Susanoo Magic (9-7) bounced back with a 90-59 win.

Seiya Ando led Shimane with 24 points and Buford contributed 16.

For Chiba (9-7), Mooney was the high scorer (16 points), while Yuki Togashi added 14.

The Jets made 8 of 37 3-point attempts in their blowout loss.

From November 13-29, the B.League had no first-division games on its schedule due to its autumn break. The second division, also known as B2, continued to hold games.


Kazuto Ioka punches Joshua Franco in the eighth round of their super flyweight fight bout on June 24 at Tokyo's Ota City General Gymnasium. (ⒸSANKEI)


Ioka to Make Title Defense on New Year's Eve

WBA super flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka is set to face Venezuelan challenger Josber Perez in a December 31 title match at Tokyo's Ota City General Gymnasium.

The fight date was announced on Monday, November 27.

Ioka (30–2-1, 15 knockouts) will fight for the sixth straight year on New Year's Eve. It will also be the 12th fight on that date during his successful career.

The 34-year-old fighter won a unanimous decision over American Joshua Franco on June 24 to claim the WBA title at the same Tokyo venue where he'll make his first defense.

"As the defending champion, I have to show that I'm on a different level and win by a landslide," Ioka was quoted as saying by Kyodo News at a Monday news conference in Tokyo.

Ioka, who is preparing to make this Japanese record 25th world title fight, previously held world titles in the strawweight (aka mini-flyweight), light flyweight, and flyweight divisions. 


Conversation of the Week

In a clever post on X (formerly) Twitter, jockey Christophe Lemaire delivered a brief, imaginary conversation between himself and now-retired horse Equinox, who won the Japan Cup in his final career race on November 26.

Equinox: "Keep safe guys, I did my time!"

Lemaire: "You reached the top partner, retirement well deserved. Enjoy! And thank you."


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.



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