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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Takumi Kanaya Aims to Encourage Cancer-Stricken Mother

Winner of the 2023 Japan Golf Tour Championship, Takumi Kanaya, said: "Hopefully, it'll go some way towards helping her with her recovery."

There are personal stories behind individual achievements and team triumphs in sports, and golfer Takumi Kanaya is living proof that inspiration is often a driving force of success.

Kanaya, who turned pro in 2020, collected his fourth Japan Golf Tour tournament title on Sunday, June 4 by winning the BMW Japan Golf Tour Championship Mori Building Cup.

The 25-year-old Hiroshima Prefecture native shot an 11-under 273 at Shishido Hills Country Club in Kasama, Ibaraki Prefecture, holding off runners-up Yuki Imamori, Hiroshi Iwata, Young Han Song and Keita Nakajima by two strokes in the Japan Golf Tour Championship, one of four major championships on the tour.

Kanaya paid tribute to his mother, Miyako, after earning his first JGT title since April 2021 (Token Homemate Cup). 

"My mother is battling breast cancer and this win is for her," Kanaya said at Shishido Hills Country Club. "Hopefully, it'll go some way towards helping her with her recovery. It will make her happy."

Takumi Kanaya
Takumi Kanaya and his mother, Miyako, are pictured at the 100th Japan Amateur Golf Championship in June 2015 in Hirono, Hyogo Prefecture. Kanaya won the tournament. (ⒸSANKEI)

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2022.

Kanaya had a 7-under 64 in the opening round and a 4-under 67 in the third round. He had even-par 71 efforts in the second and fourth rounds.

Takumi Kanaya, winner of the BMW Japan Golf Tour Championship Mori Building Cup. (ⒸSANKEI)

Playing Aggressively Pays Off

"I was really looking forward to a win this week and I'm really happy I managed to do it. It has been a long week with the multiple weather delays," said Kanaya, who tied for third in the Gate Way To The Open Mizuno Open, which wrapped up on May 28. 

He added, "I knew I had to play really aggressively to stand a chance of winning, and I'm pleased I managed to win by two shots this week."

Takumi Kanaya
Takumi Kanaya hits an approach shot in the final round of Japan Golf Tour Championship. (SANKEI)

Kanaya was the world's top-ranked men's amateur before turning pro. He earned the Mark H. McCormick Medal in recognition of his World Amateur Golf Ranking at the end of the 2020 season. Nakajima followed by winning it in 2021 and 2022.

Kanaya Falls Short of a Second Consecutive Title in Playoff

Entering the final round of the Aso Iizuka Challenged Golf Tournament on Sunday, June 11, Kanaya (62-65-64, or 25-under 191) held a three-stroke lead over second-place golfer Nakajima (67-64-63, or 22-under 194) at the Aso Iizuka Golf Club in Fukuoka.

Kanaya then shot a 4-under 68 in the fourth round, and Nakajima carded a 7-under 65.

As a result, both men finished tied atop the leaderboard at 29-under 259, forcing a playoff to determine the winner.

In the sudden-death playoff, Nakajima and Kanaya had identical even-par 4s on the 18th hole to begin the proceedings.

Nakajima then had a birdie on the same par-4 hole, and Kanaya made par, giving Nakajima the hard-earned victory by a stroke.

Setting the stage for Sunday, Kanaya had nine birdies in the third round, including an 18-foot putt on the final hole.

"I was able to play my best again, but Nakajima-san was just as impressive. He got not only a lot of birdies, but an eagle too. I think we both bring out the best in each other," Kanaya told reporters on June 10 in Fukuoka. 

Tokito Oda competes in the French Open men's wheelchair singles final on June 10 in Paris. (AP/via KYODO)

It's just a shoe!

Tennis

Oda Collects French Open Wheelchair Singles Title

Tokito Oda beat Alfie Hewett in the French Open men's wheelchair singles final on Saturday, June 10, winning 6-1, 6-4.

As a result, the 17-year-old avenged his loss to Hewett in January's Australian Open. In addition, Oda became the youngest player to capture a Grand Slam men's wheelchair singles title. 

Oda also became the new world No 1, replacing Hewett at the top of the chart.

"I was really happy to get the two dreams on the one day ー for the youngest player to be No 1 in the world and to win a Grand Slam title; so two dreams come true today," Oda was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. "It's the happiest day of my life."

Tokito Oda celebrates his title-winning victory at the French Open. (AP/via KYODO)

In the run-up to the title match, after he had beaten Martin de la Puente 6-2, 7-6 (8-6) in the semifinals in Paris, Oda talked about the significance of the world rankings and his French Open aspirations.

"To be number one is one of the biggest dreams," the Aichi Prefecture native told reporters. "And also winning this tournament [would be] a dream. So two dreams here, but I will just go for it, I will just enjoy it. I will be ready for the match."

In the same year that all-time great Shingo Kunieda announced his retirement, Oda emerges as a rising star in wheelchair tennis.

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Basketball

Crane Thunders Sign Veteran Guards Flippin, Tsuji

Dynamic guard Koh Flippin helped lead the Ryukyu Golden Kings to their first B.League title on May 28. Now he's on the move to the Gunma Crane Thunders, the Eastern Conference team announced on Friday, June 9.

Flippin, 27, spent the past two seasons with Ryukyu. He averaged 4.6 points and 2.4 assists in 60 games in 2022-23. In Game 2 of the B.League Finals, Flippin scored a team-high 21 points and doled out eight assists in the title-clinching game.

The Crane Thunders, who had a 29-31 record this past season, have also signed veteran shooting guard Naoto Tsuji, the team said on Thursday, June 8.

Tsuji, 32, suited up the past two seasons with the Hiroshima Dragonflies. He contributed 9.8 points and 2.6 assists in 57 games in 2022-23 for the Dragonflies.

Future NBA player Rui Hachimura and Mesiei High School basketball coach Hisao Sato in a 2015 file photo. (KYODO)

Hachimura's High School Coach Passes Away at 73

Hisao Sato, the longtime boys basketball coach at Sendai University Meisei High School, died on June 8 at age 73, according to the school.

Sato coached future NBA player Rui Hachimura during his tenure at Meisei High. He became head coach in 2005. 

Meisei High won three consecutive Winter Cup titles in 2013, 2014 and 2015 during Hachimura's distinguished high school career. It provided a glimpse of Hachimura's potential (before he enrolled at Gonzaga University) and demonstrated Sato's coaching acumen on the big stage during the Winter Cup, aka the All–Japan High School Championship. 

Sato also coached at Sendai High School in his hometown before taking over at Meisei High. He captured consecutive Winter Cup crowns in 1999 and 2000.

Among Sato's pupils from the present and past generations of basketball players are Shimane Susanoo Magic star guard Seiya Ando and Takehiko Shimura, president of the B.League's Sendai 89ers

A gutsy point guard who never let his 160-cm height get in the way of making a big impact on the game, Shimura reflected on Sato's passing on Friday.

"I am filled with loneliness and great sadness with the news of the passing of Hisao, who poured so much love and passion into basketball," Shimura wrote on Twitter. "We will pass on the thoughts of Mr Sato, who led the basketball world not only in Sendai, but also in Japan for a long time, to the future."

Additional Insights on Coach Sato

Maiko Nakamura, a writer for Gekkan Basket, related a story about Sato discussing his insatiable appetite for learning about basketball in a remembrance article.

"Just a few years ago, I remember him laughing and saying, 'In my 50 years of coaching, I think I understand about half of basketball. No, I still have a long way to go,' " Nakamura wrote in a Japanese-language article.

The author's summary of Sato's approach to coaching concluded this way: "Never satisfied with the status quo, he was a man who honed his leadership skills and kept his passion burning until the very end."

Nagoya Grampus midfielder Sho Inagaki in an October 2021 file photo. (SANKEI)

Soccer

Inagaki Helps Set the Tone for Grampus

Heading into their clash against visiting Avispa Fukuoka on Sunday, June 11, Nagoya Grampus had won four of their previous five matches. Owning third place in the J.League standings, Grampus manager Kento Hasegawa's team has 32 points from 16 matches (nine wins, five draws and two defeats) to date this season.

Through games of June 10, only Vissel Kobe (33 points) and Yokohama F. Marinos (36) i were ahead of Grampus.

Vissel and Grampus are tied for the second-fewest goals allowed (13), and overall intensity and aggressive play everywhere on the field can push a team to play defense.

Tackles are one indication of a team's effort, and Nagoya veteran midfielder Sho Inagaki is the J.League leader in tackles (65), 10 more than three other players.

Inagaki, the 31-year-old team captain, helps set the tone for the Grampus with consistent effort and hard work.

In January, it was announced that Inagaki would serve as captain this season, and he explained how it was an important responsibility for him.

"I would like to take the lead and do my best while borrowing the strength of my teammates, the coach and my family," Inagaki said at the time in a team-issued statement.

Before joining the club in 2020 he played for Ventforet Kofu and Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

In October 2021, Inagaki had a goal in Grampus' Levain Cup triumph, a 2-0 verdict, over Cerezo Osaka at Saitama Stadium.

Inagaki has two goals in 16 matches this season.

Almond Eye concluded her career with a victory in the 40th Japan Cup on November 29, 2020. Jockey Christophe Lemaire salutes fans at Tokyo Racecourse.

Horse Racing

Almond Eye Elected to the JRA Hall of Fame

Almond Eye retired in 2020 with a long list of racing accomplishments, including two victories apiece in the Japan Cup (2018, 2020) and Tenno Sho (Autumn, in 2019, '20). Add this to the list: She has been elected to the Japan Racing Association Hall of Fame, it was announced on June 6.

In 15 career starts, the Lord Kanaloa-sired Almond Eye won 11 times. She is the first horse to be voted into the JRA Hall of Fame, which opened in 1985, since Kitasan Black in 2020.

Winner of the Fillies' Triple Crown in 2018 and a two-time Japanese Horse of the Year, Almond Eye received 200 of 207 votes from a media panel, securing more than 95% of the vote.

Contrail, a Deep Impact progeny, received 155 votes. He missed out on the required 75% from the panel by just one vote.

Trainer Sakae Kunieda was thrilled upon learning that Almond Eye will become a Hall of Fame inductee.

"It is a great honor to have Almond Eye selected for the award," Kunieda said in a statement. "From her debut in 2017 until her retirement at the Japan Cup in 2020, she won the Triple Crown for fillies and nine Group 1 races and was also the representative Horse of the Year twice. 

"Almond Eye is outstanding both physically and mentally and always lived up to our high expectations and kept [us] dreaming about what kind of performance she will show in the next race."

Christophe Lemaire rides Almond Eye to victory for the final time at the 40th Japan Cup.

Kunieda Thankful for Chance to Work with Almond Eye

Looking back at several years of work with Almond Eye, who made her racing debut in August 2017 at Niigata Racecourse, Kunieda added this comment.

"I am grateful to the owner (Silk Racing Co Ltd) who entrusted me with such a great horse, the farm staff who cooperated in realizing our dreams, and all the fans who supported us together," he said. "Being involved with Almond Eye as her trainer is a wonderful asset for me and the stable staff, and I will continue to devote myself [to horse racing] going forward."

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San Diego Padres starter Yu Darvish pitches in the fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Denver on June 9. (Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Quote of the Week

"It means a lot, [and] it just tells you that I've been able to play this long and go into battle with my teammates."

San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish on collecting his 100th MLB career victory on Friday, June 9 in a 9-6 victory over the Colorado Rockies. He is 100-79 since making his MLB debut with the Texas Rangers in 2012.

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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