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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Gymnastics Star Daiki Hashimoto Defends World Title

Olympic champion Daiki Hashimoto won the men's all-around title for the second year in a row, rebounding from a slow start in Antwerp, Belgium.

Displaying poise and self-belief, Daiki Hashimoto defended his men's all-around title at the 2023 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships on Thursday, October 5.

Hashimoto, 22, has now won three all-around men's titles at the biggest international gymnastics competitions over the past three years.

"Of course, it's hard to win one and harder to win two," Hashimoto told reporters in Antwerp, Belgium. 

"But it's day by day, meet by meet, not thinking about winning back-to-back, concentrating on each competition I'm in."

Hashimoto ascended to global stardom with a gold medal-winning performance at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 at age 19, becoming the youngest men's winner of the all-around Olympic title. He then captured his first world title in November 2022 in Liverpool, England.

Daiki Hashimoto
Daiki Hashimoto (Yves Herman/REUTERS)

In the first of six rotations in Thursday's final, Hashimoto had a poor start in the floor routine, placing 17th. 

"Anything can happen in the game," Hashimoto said later. "I kept my mental state consistent after my floor routine, which wasn’t very good, and I came back very strong to catch up with the others."

Hashimoto showed his overall skills were a level above the others, including silver medalist Illia Kovtun of Ukraine and bronze medalist Fred Richard of the United States. The Japanese star clinched the title with a top score on the horizontal bar (14.500 points).

Daiki Hashimoto Maintains a Positive Mindset

After securing the gold, Hashimoto acknowledged his mental focus during his horizontal bar routine paid off.

Looking back on that portion of the event, Hashimoto offered a general explanation on his competitive approach. "I eliminate all negative thoughts and just concentrate on the best performance that I can do."

Hashimoto finished with 86.132 points for the six apparatuses (vault, pommel horse, horizontal bar, parallel bars, floor and rings). Kovtun had 84.998 and Richard received 84.332.

What's more, Hashimoto was in the top three for each of the five disciplines after his shaky start in the floor routine.

In the broader context, what's the significance of Hashimoto's 2023 world title?

He became the first repeat world champion since retired compatriot Kohei Uchimura's six straight world titles (2009-11, 2013-15 ― the worlds were skipped in 2012 because it was an Olympic year).

Indeed, Uchimura, aka "King Kohei," set a benchmark for Hashimoto and his peers.

"What the legend Uchimura has done in his career is something that I have to keep striving for, but it's not something I focus on," Hashimoto commented in Belgium, according to the world championships' official website. "I have to concentrate more on what I can do in my performance to improve as a gymnast."

The Japan men's squad celebrates after winning the gold medal in the team final on October 3 at the world championships. (Yves Herman/REUTERS)

Japan Men Claim Team Title

Hashimoto played a pivotal role in leading Japan to victory in the men's final at the world championships on Tuesday, October 3. He ensured the team's gold medal aspirations came to fruition with a top effort on the horizontal bar (14.366 points) during the final portion of the competition.

Japan finished with 255.594 points, followed by China (253.794) and the United States (252.428), to win its first title since 2015.

Along with Hashimoto, Kenta Chiba, Kazuma Kaya, Kazuki Minami and Kaito Sugimoto competed for Japan in the final.

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Akari Fujinami reacts after winning the women's 53-kg freestyle wrestling final at the Asian Games on October 5 in Hangzhou, China. (KYODO)

Wrestling

World Champion Fujinami Hauls in Asian Games Title

Two weeks after winning the women's 53-kilogram division gold medal at the World Wrestling Championships in Belgrade, freestyle wrestler Akari Fujinami added another title to her glistening résumé.

Fujinami outpointed China's Qianyu Pang 10-0 in the 53-kg weight class final on Thursday, October 5 at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.

Akari Fujinami grapples with China's Qianyu Pang in the women's 53-kg freestyle wrestling final at the Asian Games. (KYODO)

With her impressive effort against Pang, the 19-year-old Mie Prefecture native extended her winning streak to 130 in wrestling matches dating back to September 2017.

"I couldn't really relax after the world championships because of this meet," Fujinami was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. "At the worlds, my legs were aligned, and that was something I had to fix. Here, I never wanted any of my opponents to touch my leg."

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Asian Games

A Comprehensive Display of Athleticism in China 

Japan collected 47 gold medals entering the penultimate day of competition at the Asian Games, Saturday, October 7.

At the same time, South Korea was third in gold medals (36), with China leading the way with 187. (Check out the full medal table on Olympics.com.)

Here's a breakdown of Japan's gold-medal haul by sport through Friday, October 6:

Cycling (11)
Swimming (5)
Judo (5)
Wrestling (5)
Triathlon (3)
Soft Tennis (3)
Gymnastics (2)
Athletics (2)
Fencing (2)
Karate (2)
Skateboarding (1)
Boxing (1)
Sailing (1)
Football (1)
Handball (1)
Softball (1)
Climbing (1)


Kosuke Kitajima attends the International Swimming Hall of Fame Honoree Induction Ceremony on September 30 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (ISHOF)

Swimming

Kitajima Inducted into International Swimming Hall of Fame

Kosuke Kitajima was among the International Swimming Hall of Fame's Class of 2023 inductees on Saturday, September 30 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The retired four-time Olympic gold medalist breaststroke specialist was honored on the same night as Michael Phelps, Phelps' longtime coach Bob Bowman, and Missy Franklin, among others.

Kitajima, winner of gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke at the 2004 Athens Games and 2008 Beijing Olympics, became the first athlete to win the two breaststroke races in consecutive Olympic Games.

On his Instagram account, Kitajima shared a short introductory video from the ISHOF festivities, which sparked a fun exchange between the Tokyo native and his archrival from his legendary career, American Brendan Hansen.

Hansen: "Congrats buddy, sorry I wasn’t there to celebrate. Well deserved!!"

Kitajima: "Thanks man! Lots of footage of us battling it out back in the day!"

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Japan's Yuki Ishikawa spikes the ball in the second set of a men's volleyball Olympic qualifier against Slovenia at Yoyogi National Stadium on October 7 in Tokyo. (ⒸSANKEI)

Volleyball

Japan Men Qualify for 2024 Paris Olympics

Japan earned a 25-21, 25-22, 25-18 victory over Slovenia in the FIVB Volleyball Men's Olympic Qualification Tournament on Saturday, October 7 at Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo.

With the win, Japan improved to 5-1 in Pool B and secured a spot in the 12-team tourney at the 2024 Paris Olympics. The United States led eight-team Pool B with a 6-0 record entering the final day of the tourney on Sunday. Team USA also booked a berth in the Paris competition.

Brazil and China are hosting Pool A and Pool C, with eight teams apiece.

Against Slovenia, Japan standout Yuki Ishikawa had a team-high 15 points. Ran Takahashi and Yuji Nishida chipped in with 13 points apiece. Takahashi also had three aces.

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Takefusa Kubo
Real Sociedad's Takefusa Kubo (left) in action with Real Madrid's Rodrygo in a La Liga match on September 17 in Madrid. (Isabel Infantes/REUTERS)

Soccer

Kubo Chosen as La Liga's Player of the Month

Real Sociedad's Takefusa Kubo, a 22-year-old midfielder, is La Liga's Player of the Month for September.

Spain's top-flight soccer circuit announced the news on Friday, October 6.

Kubo, who joined Real Sociedad in 2022, notched four goals in September, including two against Granada on September 2.

In the first seven league matches of the 2023-24 season, Kubo has a team-best five goals.

Other candidates for La Liga's September accolade were Barcelona's Robert Lewandowski, Real Madrid's Jude Bellingham, Athletic Bilbao's Iñaki Williams and Girona's Savinho.

Takefusa Kubo participates in a Japan national team training session on September 8 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (ⒸSANKEI)

In addition to his club duties, Kubo was called up to the Japan national team for a pair of upcoming friendlies on October 13 and 17 against Canada and Tunisia, respectively, in Niigata and Kobe.

The first match kicks off at 7:35 PM, followed by a 7:10 PM start in the latter contest.

The Top Scorer in the J.League

Vissel Kobe's Yuya Osako became the first player in the J.League this season with 20 goals.

Osaka bagged his 20th goal for league-leading Vissel in the team's 29th match of the 2023 campaign on September 29. The result? For Vissel, a 2-0 away victory over Yokohama F. Marinos.

Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto speaks to reporters on October 6 at Sapporo City Hall. (KYODO)

Olympics

Sapporo to Abandon 2030 Bid, Pursue 2034 Bid

Sapporo has decided to scrap plans to bid for the 2030 Olympics, NHK and other media outlets reported on Friday, October 6.

Hokkaido Prefecture's largest city, which hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics, now intends to bid for the 2034 Olympics or perhaps at an even later date. 

More clarity is expected in the coming days.

Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto is set to hold a meeting with Japanese Olympic Committee President Yasuhiro Yamashita in Tokyo on Wednesday, October 11 to discuss the matter.

Bid-rigging scandals and other forms of corruption linked to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have impacted the public-relations image of Sapporo's 2030 bid. According to published polls, residents of Sapporo have had sagging public support for the bid in recent months. And decreasing enthusiasm for a bid appears problematic. The Hokkaido Shimbun reported in January 2023 that 67% of residents over the age of 18 opposed a bid.

"We must proceed with an Olympic bid with the understanding of the local people," Akimoto told reporters at Sapporo City Hall, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Friday. "At this point, we cannot say that we are gaining that understanding."

Akimoto's meeting with Yamashita looks to be an opportunity to reset Sapporo's Olympic agenda.

"I received an offer from President Yamashita to discuss bidding for the Games in the future," Akimoto was quoted as saying by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Briefly…

Brighton & Albion's Kaoru Mitoma is on the verge of signing a new five-year contract with the English Premier League squad, according to published reports.

University of Nebraska guard Keisei Tominaga was named to the preseason All-Big Ten Conference team, it was announced on Friday, October 6. Tominaga is one of 10 all-conference basketball players chosen by media members who cover the Big Ten.

Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly, the starting pitcher for the United States in the 2023 World Baseball Classic championship game against Japan in March, was back in the spotlight on Saturday, October 7. Kelly was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of a National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He threw 6⅓ scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out five in the Diamondbacks' 11-2 win at Dodger Stadium.


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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