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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Shunsuke Izumiya Triumphs in Diamond League Debut

Shunsuke Izumiya holds off Swiss opponent Jason Joseph by 0.01 seconds in the men's 110-meter hurdles in the Athletissima meet in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Hurdler Shunsuke Izumiya had a dynamic Diamond League debut in the Athletissima meet in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Friday, June 30.

The 23-year-old earned a win in the men's 110-meter hurdles (13.22 seconds), edging runner-up Jason Joseph of Switzerland by 0.01 seconds. France's Just Kwaou-Mathey finished third in 13.37 at Stade Olympique de la Pontaise.

In the Czech Republic, Izumiya placed fourth in the 62nd Ostrava Golden Spike on Tuesday, June 27. He is ranked 13th in the world in the 110-meter hurdles and is the Japanese national record-holder in the event (13.04 seconds).

"I'm honestly happy to win," Izumiya was quoted as saying by Kyodo News after the race, the sixth meet of the current Diamond League season. "Winning has given me confidence."

Izumiya made his Olympic debut at the delayed 2020 Tokyo Games in 2021, advancing to the semifinals and finishing 10th overall in his specialty event. In 2022, the Kanagawa Prefecture native placed 14th at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

He was the 2018 World Under-20 Championships bronze medalist in Tampere, Finland. In 2019, he placed third again at the Summer World University Games, aka Summer Universiade, in Naples, Italy.

Shunsuke Izumiya
Shunsuke Izumiya poses for a commemorative photo after winning the 110-meter hurdles in Lausanne, Switzerland on June 30. (KYODO)

A Dominant Season for Shunsuke Izumiya

Izumiya, who has won six of seven races he's participated in this year, is scheduled to compete in the 2023 World Athletics Championships (August 19-27) in Budapest.

Launched in 2010, the Diamond League is the premier series of international track and field meets each year. The circuit gives a glimpse of what to expect among top competitors at the Olympics and World Athletics Championships.

Haruka Kitaguchi competes in the women's javelin event at the Diamond League meet on June 30. (AP/via KYODO)

Before Izumiya's breakthrough victory on the final day of June, javelin thrower Haruka Kitaguchi was the first Japanese athlete to win a Diamond League event, placing first in the Meet de Paris on June 18, 2022. She followed that performance by earning a bronze medal at the World Athletics Championships.

On Friday, Kitaguchi placed second in the women's javelin competition (63.34 meters).

Japan point guard Mai Yamamoto runs the offense against New Zealand in the FIBA Women's Asia Cup semifinals on July 1 in Sydney. (FIBA.BASKETBALL)

Basketball

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Japan Continues Dominant Play at FIBA Women's Asia Cup

The Japan women's basketball national team moved within a game of capturing its sixth consecutive FIBA Women's Asia Cup title by beating New Zealand 88-52 in a semifinal showdown on Saturday, July 1 in Sydney.

Stephanie Mawuli paced Japan with 17 points and Monica Okoye added 16. Teammates Nako Motohashi and Aika Hirashita both scored 10 points. 

China defeated Australia 74-60 in the other semifinal, setting up a clash of rivals in Sunday's final. Japan emerged victorious against China in the 2015, 2019 and 2021 title matches, winning the last two by a combined eight points.

On Monday, June 26, Japan opened its title defense with a 94-53 win over Taiwan. Japan routed the Philippines 95-57 in another preliminary round game on Tuesday, followed by a 91-66 triumph over Australia the next day.

In 2013, Japan collected its second FIBA Women's Asia Cup title, 43 years after winning it for the first time. Since then, Japan captured the continental title in 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021. And in his final tournament at the helm, Tom Hovasse led the Japan women to a silver-medal finish at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Toru Onzuka took over as bench boss weeks later as Japan extended its reign as Asian champion.

Heading into the final against China on Sunday, July 2, Japan leads the eight-team tournament in scoring (92.0 points per game). Japan is also first in field-goal percentage (50.2%) and 3-point shooting percentage (41.1%).

Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura drives to the basket as Memphis Grizzlies guard Luke Kennard defends in the first half of Game 2 of an NBA first-round playoff series on March 19 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. (Petre Thomas/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Hachimura Decides to Skip FIBA Basketball World Cup

Rui Hachimura, the Japan men's national team's most athletic forward, is skipping the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, citing his decision to focus on preparing for the 2023-24 NBA season instead.

"It was a really difficult decision, but having just ended a season with a long playoff run and as I prepare for my first free agency, I have prioritized considering my future NBA career before reaching this decision," Hachimura said in a statement on Tuesday, June 27. "I will concentrate on training this summer ahead of next season and get my physical condition right."

His announcement was made just before the one-month countdown to the FIBA Basketball World Cup, which tips off in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines on August 25.

Hachimura, who entered this offseason as a restricted free agent, is going to remain with the Los Angeles Lakers on a three-year contract for ¥7.35 billion JPY ($51 million USD), according to ESPN.

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Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani slugs a home run off Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Tommy Henry in the sixth inning at Angel Stadium on June 30 in Anaheim, California. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Baseball

Ohtani Belts 30th Homer on Final Day of June

Los Angeles Angels slugger Shohei Ohtani smacked a leadoff home run in the sixth inning against the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, June 30, giving him 15 round-trippers in June.

It was a titanic blast, traveling 150 meters (493 feet) to extend his MLB lead in homers (30). Matt Olson of the Atlanta Braves is second with 28.

Ohtani is tied with Olson for the MLB lead in RBIs (67) through Friday.

Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs set the MLB record for homers in one month with 20 in June 1998. Rudy York of the Detroit Tigers set the American League record with 18 in August 1937.

Arizona defeated Los Angeles 6-2, overshadowing Ohtani's homer.

In related news, New York Post baseball columnist Jon Heyman shared the view that three teams (Los Angeles Dodgers, the Angels and the San Francisco Giants) are the likely top contenders to sign Ohtani to a new contract. He becomes a free agent after the 2023 season and is expected to command $50 million USD (¥7.2 billion JPY) per year in salary.

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Jamie Joseph (ⒸSANKEI)

Rugby

Joseph to Leave Brave Blossoms After Rugby World Cup

Jamie Joseph's tenure as the Japan men's rugby national team head coach is coming to an end.

The Brave Blossoms boss will not lead the team beyond the 2023 Rugby World Cup, it was widely reported on Friday, June 30.

Joseph, 53, has guided the national team since 2016, taking over after ex-coach Eddie Jones' departure.

With New Zealand-born Joseph at the helm, the Brave Blossoms reached the quarterfinals of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, the team's best-ever showing in the sport's biggest tournament.

Yasuhiro Yamashita (KYODO)

Olympics

Yamashita to Remain JOC Chief for Two More Years

Yasuhiro Yamashita, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, will stay in charge for two more years.

His re-election was announced on Thursday.

Yamashita, a four-time world judo champion and a gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, has held the JOC's top post since 2019.

In reflecting on this current era of sports governance, Yamashita acknowledged that scandals have tarnished Japan's Olympic legacy.

"Trust in the Olympics is declining," Yamashita said, according to Kyodo News. "It's necessary to have a legacy that takes root and makes people think in 10 years' time or 20 years' time, it was good to host the Tokyo Olympics."

Andres Iniesta speaks after his final match with Vissel Kobe on July 1 at Noevir Stadium Kobe. (ⒸSANKEI)

Soccer

Iniesta Bids Farewell to Vissel Kobe 

Andres Iniesta made his final appearance for Vissel Kobe on Saturday night, July 1, receiving a warm send-off from his teammates and fans.

The Spaniard spoke fondly about his five years in a Vissel uniform in a post-match speech in Kobe.

"When I came to Vissel five years ago, it was impossible to imagine how beautiful and moving this journey was going to be," Iniesta said, according to Kyodo News, after Vissel's 1-1 draw with J.League rival Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo.

"The memory I treasure and take back home is the love and respect you all showed me from the first day we arrived here. I want to thank you on behalf of myself and my family."

Vissel, which got a match-tying goal from Matheus Thuler in the 85th minute, sit in third place in the J.League standings through Saturday.

Vissel Kobe fans hold various items during Andres Iniesta's final game with the J.League club on July 1. (KYODO)

Festive Atmosphere

Iniesta, a 39-year-old midfielder who has vowed to continue his playing career elsewhere, greeted fans after the match, exchanging smiles and handshakes and embracing them. To commemorate the night, photos were snapped as enthusiastically as Iniesta played whenever he appeared in a Vissel match.

He received a traditional doage (victory toss) from his teammates and numerous gifts from the team, including a Japanese sword from team owner Hiroshi Mikitani and a framed No. 8 Vissel jersey.

Vissel Kobe's Andres Iniesta moves the ball in the first half against Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo on July 1 in Kobe. (ⒸSANKEI)

The soccer legend shared the momentous occasion with his wife and five children, who posed for photos with him on the field after the match.

Iniesta Ready for a Change of Scenery

Iniesta appeared in four of Vissel's first 18 matches this season, including his first start of the campaign on Saturday. The midfielder joined Barcelona in 2002, then moved on to Vissel in 2018.

He scored the winning goal for Spain against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final.

What's next for the veteran player?

"I have the desire to retire and close my career while playing on the pitch, and I'm taking my next step in accordance with that emotion," Iniesta said before a capacity crowd at Noevir Stadium Kobe, Reuters 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 Twitter @ed_odeven.

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