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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Kokomo Murase Sets New Standard of Excellence in Women's Snowboarding

Reflecting on her triumph in Colorado, Kokomo Murase says, "I have added more variation to my tricks and that's really boosted my confidence."

Teenage snowboarder Kokomo Murase has demonstrated again and again that she loves aiming for perfection and trying the trickiest of techniques. 

During the 2023 World Cup snowboarding season, Murase has had limited opportunities to compete in her specialty event. But the Gifu Prefecture native has made the most of her opportunities to shine on the gravity-defying sport's biggest stage. She won her first big air event of the season in October in Switzerland. And then she notched another victory on Friday, December 15. 

In the season finale at Copper Mountain, Colorado, Murase established a new scoring record (197.00 points). It was a performance that the International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS) website proclaimed set a new standard for female big air participants.

How big a deal was it?

It was "perhaps the most emphatic victory in FIS Snowboard big air World Cup history," according to the organization's website.

On her second run in Colorado, the website reported, "Murase absolutely blew the roof off of the competition, as she dropped in, lined up for a backside spin, and almost casually threw down a trick that no woman has ever before landed (at least to public knowledge) ― a backside triple cork 1440 Weddle grab." 

This highly challenging technique involves grabbing with one's lead hand the tip of the snowboard between the bindings. For Murase, it also received acknowledgment from the judges of its incredible difficulty, and she was awarded points accordingly ― 99.75 out of a possible 100.

"I was determined to make the podium as I was competing in just two big air events [at the World Cup this season]," Murase said, according to Kyodo News. She added, "I'm really happy to have won both."

Kokomo Murase
Kokomo Murase in action in women's snowboard big air qualifying on February 14, 2022, at the Beijing Olympics. (KYODO)

Kokomo Murase: Making History in Colorado

Murase, the bronze medalist at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, demonstrated her wide range of skills in the competition in Colorado.

On her first run, Murase's stellar effort included a switch frontside triple cork 1260 Indy (this is a rotation that occurs on the vertical axis). As a result, she received a sterling score of 97.25 points.

On her final run, Murase put an exclamation point on her day with a polished performance that included "back-to-back never-been-done-in-competition tricks, as she stepped up to a switch frontside triple cork 1440 Indy, making it three landed triple corks in one competition," FIS reported.

To wrap up her three-run performance, Murase sealed the victory with 197.00 points to place ahead of compatriot Mari Fukada (174.00) and Great Britain's Mia Brookes (155.75).

Murase was pleased with the results.

"It's been a season like never before. I have added more variation to my tricks and that's really boosted my confidence," Murase was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

Also for Japan, two-time Olympian Hiroaki Kunitake triumphed in the men's big air event, winning a World Cup event for the first time on Friday. Kunitake amassed 181.25 points, while runner-up Sam Vermaat of the Netherlands received 169.50.

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Inter Miami's Lionel Messi dribbles the ball against FC Cincinnati's Junior Moreno on October 7 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Sam Navarro/USA TODAY SPORTS)

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Soccer

Messi's Inter Miami to Face Vissel Kobe on Preseason Tour

Major League Soccer's Inter Miami, superstar Lionel Messi's team, has scheduled a preseason match against the J.League champion Vissel Kobe.

Inter Miami announced its first Asian tour on Friday, December 15.

The tour will include a pair of games in the Riyadh Season Cup on January 29 (Al-Hilal) and February 1 (Al Nassr) in Saudi Arabia, followed by a match against the Hong Kong national team on February 4 at Hong Kong Stadium.

After facing Hong Kong, Inter Miami will travel to Japan to meet Vissel Kobe on February 7 at Tokyo's National Stadium.

"Vissel Kobe is a powerhouse club in Asia coming off of a historic season after winning the J1 League, so we're thrilled about this opportunity to sharpen our team in a match like this one," said Chris Henderson in a news release. He is Inter Miami's chief soccer officer and sporting director. Henderson added, "We continue to look for the best ways to prepare for 2024, and feel confident this match and this tour will help us do that."

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Chiba Jets big man John Mooney in a May 2022 file photo. (B.LEAGUE)

Basketball

Chiba Jets Improve to 4-0 in EASL

John Mooney scored 22 points and grabbed 22 rebounds and Yuki Togashi contributed 20 points in the Chiba Jets' 102-69 rout of the Anyang Jung Kwan Jang Red Boosters in an East Asia Super League Group A match on Wednesday, December 13.

The visiting Jets (4-0 in the EASL), one of the top teams in B.League history, led 49-39 at halftime. They extended their advantage to 77-53 entering the fourth quarter.

Togashi sank 6 of 13 3-point attempts. Teammate Ren Kanechika made 5 of 9 3s in a 17-point effort. Xavier Cooks and Ira Brown added 17 and 12 points, respectively, for Chiba.

The Korean Basketball League's Red Boosters fell to 2-1 in the EASL.

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Keisei Tominaga
University of Nebrasaka guard Keisei Tominaga competes against visiting Michigan State on December 10 in a Big Ten Conference game. (NEBRASKA ATHLETICS)

Tominaga Helps Lead Nebraska to Bounce-Back Win

Senior guard Keisei Tominaga scored 15 points for the University of Nebraska in a 77-70 home victory over Big Ten opponent Michigan State on December 10.

The Cornhuskers (8-2 overall, 1-1 in the Big Ten), who lost their previous game, a 76-65 setback to Minnesota on December 6, had a strong performance on offense against the Spartans.

Nebraska shot 27-for-54 from the field, including 64% in the second half when it outscored Michigan State 46-31.

Tominaga, who is averaging 14.0 points per game, reached double figures for the fifth time in his eight games this season. The Aichi Prefecture native made 5 of 12 shots, including 3-for-7 from 3-point range against the Spartans.

Nebraska ended an 11-game losing streak to longtime Michigan State coach Tom Izzo's squad, beating the Spartans for the first time since January 2016.

Summing up the team's achievement and his post-game-mood on X (formerly Twitter), Tominaga wrote: "Big win tonight. Love the Huskers and love Huskers fans."

Roki Sasaki
Chiba Lotte Marines ace Roki Sasaki fires a pitch to a Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks batter on July 24 at Zozo Marine Stadium. (ⒸSANKEI)

Baseball

Sasaki Return to Marines for the 2024 Season

Although he requested that the Chiba Lotte Marines post him, so that he could pursue a move to an MLB team this offseason, hard-throwing right-hander Roki Sasaki is returning to the Marines for the 2024 season.

Lotte decided to deny Sasaki's request as the December 15 deadline passed, according to published reports.

The 22-year-old starting pitcher had a 7-4 win-loss record with a 1.78 ERA in 2023, his third NPB season. He had 135 strikeouts in 91 innings."

In April 2022, Sasaki tossed a perfect game against the Orix Buffaloes and struck out 19 batters.

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Kazushi Kimura rides Gretzky the Great in 2020 at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. (MICHAEL BURNS PHOTOGRAPHY)

Horse Racing

Kimura Continues Reign as Top Jockey at Canada's Woodbine Racetrack

Over the past 365 days through December 15, Japanese jockey Kazushi Kimura is the leader in victories at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto.

The 24-year-old Kimura, who is from Hokkaido Prefecture, has 155 wins in his 787 starts in that span.

Sahin Civaci is second with 129 wins in 556 races.

In December 2022, Kimura claimed his second consecutive jockey title at the Canadian racetrack.

JAPAN Forward began following Kimura's career during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a phone interview in June 2020, Kimura spoke about the teamwork involved in achieving success in horse racing. 

"I'm just a jockey," Kimura said during the interview. "A jockey needs the best horse in the race and a good trainer. That's why I just appreciate everybody, like my agent, trainers and owners. Thanks for giving good horses to me, because if I never ride a good horse, then I couldn't win."

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Newly appointed Japan national team rugby head coach Eddie Jones poses with a ball after a news conference on December 14 in Tokyo. (Issei Kato/REUTERS)

Quote of the Week

"The thing that always defines a team is its identity. We need an emphasis on playing quicker than the opposition, and when a team plays against us, they're frightened by our speed. When I talk about speed, I'm not just talking about running speed but I mean the speed at which we think."

Eddie Jones, the Japan rugby national team's new head coach, outlining his vision for the Brave Blossoms at a December 14 news conference, Kyodo News reported.

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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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