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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Yuma Kagiyama Triumphs at the Four Continents

Kagiyama built a big lead after the short program at the Four Continents, and that continued in the free skate. He won the title by more than 30 points.

Yuma Kagiyama, silver medalist at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, won his first figure skating competition of 2024, the Four Continents Championships, on Saturday night, February 3 in Shanghai. 

Holding a huge lead after the men's short program, Kagiyama also won Saturday's free skate and finished on top with 307.58 points.

Japanese compatriot Shun Sato, who was third in the free skate after finishing second in the short program (99.20 points), held on for the runner-up spot with 274.59 overall points. South Korea's Junhwan Cha earned the bronze on 272.95.

Four Continents
Shun Sato (KYODO)

Sota Yamamoto, fourth-place finisher in both programs, was the top non-medalist on the night at 263.43. China's Boyang Jin (256.89) rounded out the top five at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center.

For the 20-year-old Kagiiyama, the 2023-24 Grand Prix season has been a solid overall endeavor. He placed third in the Grand Prix de France in early November 2023, followed by a victory in the NHK Trophy in late November in Kadoma, Osaka, Prefecture and a third-place finish in the Grand Prix Final in December in Beijing. 

In addition, Kagiyama was the runner-up at the Japan Championships in late December.

Four Continents
Yuma Kagiyama in action during the men's free skate at the Four Continents. (KYODO)

Strong Start in Free Skate Helps Propel Kagiyama to Four Continents Victory

For Kagiyama, a superb opening quadruple salchow was a good omen for him on Saturday night.

It wasn't a perfect performance, but Kagiyama's poise throughout the free skate was a sign of his maturation as an athlete. 

What's more, his all-around skills as a skater were on display throughout the event. For instance, he received 93.48 points for his Four Continents program components (artistry) in the free skate, second only to his career-best effort of 93.94 for that portion scoring in the free skate at the Beijing Olympics.

"In today's free skate, although I was unable to land the quad flip cleanly, I was able to recover and land all my remaining jumps," Kagiyama said, according to Olympics.com. "I am very happy with that and it gives me great calmness."

Four Continents
Four Continents men's champion Yuma Kagiyama (KYODO)

He continued by saying, "Although I've performed well here, there is still the world championships to come, and I will keep working hard to perform well there."

The 2024 World Figure Skating Championships will be held in Montreal, Canada, March 18-24.

Miura, Kihara Earns Pairs Silver at Four Continents

Reigning world champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara of Japan placed second in the pairs competition at the Four Continents on Saturday.

Canada's Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps, who held nearly a four-point lead over the Japanese duo after Thursday's short program, placed first with 198.80 points.

In the free skate, the Canadian pair outscored Miura and Kihara 129.32 to 125.16.

Miura and Kihara finished with 190.77 points.

Ellie Kam and Danny O'Shea of the United States claimed the bronze (187.28).

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Iran's Alireza Jahanbakhsh scores his team's second goal from the penalty spot in the sixth minute of second-half stoppage time against Japan in the Asian Cup quarterfinals on February 3 in Al Rayyan, Qatar. (Ibraheem Al Omari/REUTERDS)

Soccer

Iran Defeats Japan in Asian Cup Quarterfinals

Iran scored two unanswered goals in the Asian Cup quarterfinals on Saturday, February 3, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 triumph over Japan in Al Rayyan, Qatar.

Japan's Hidemasa Morita scored the match's first goal in the 28th minute, and it turned out to be his team's final highlight.

Japan's Hidemasa Morita (right) celebrates scoring the team's first goal with teammate Ritsu Doan. (Thaier Al-Sudani/REUTERS)

For Iran, Mohammad Mohebi delivered a game-tying goal in the 55th minute.

Momentum shifted to Iran, which employed a persistent offensive attack against the Samurai Blue.

Eventually, it paid off again for Iran.

In the sixth minute of second-half stoppage time, Iran's Alireza Jahanbakhsh converted a penalty, booting the ball into the top corner to break the deadlock.

Japan's Kou Itakura fouls Iran's Hossein Kanani to concede a penalty in second-half stoppage time in the Asian Cup quarterfinals on February 3 at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar. (Ibraheem Al Omari/REUTERS)

What led to the penalty being awarded to Iran?

Japan defender Kou Itakura was given a yellow card for tripping Hossein Kanaanizadegan in the box.

Since March, three-time Asian Cup champion Iran is unbeaten in 16 matches under new manager Amir Ghalenoei.

Iran advances to the Asian Cup semifinals to face Qatar, which defeated Uzbekistan 3-2 on penalties in another quarterfinal match, on February 8.

Japan, the runner-up to Qatar at the 2019 Asian Cup, holds the record for tourney titles (four).

Moriyasu Comments on the Match

Reflecting on the match, Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu told reporters that the squad may need to make tactical changes in future matches.

"We have to think about how we stave off teams who pin us back using their power," Moriyasu said, according to Kyodo News.

He went on: "We need to raise our individual level first, but the reason for the defeat today was my failure to use the substitutions well."

Moriyasu also lamented the final result.

"The players and staff had good preparation for the past two days, and it's disappointing as manager I couldn't turn their efforts into a result,” he was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. 

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Shintaro Fujinami (KYODO)

Baseball

Fujinami to Join Mets on a One-Year Deal

Veteran right-hander Shintaro Fujinami, who split his first MLB season pitching for the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles in 2023, is on the verge of signing a one-year deal with the New York Mets, according to published reports.

MLB.com reported that Fujinami, a free agent, agreed to a contract offer from the Mets on Friday, February 2. The National League East club has not yet made an announcement.

In 2023, the 29-year-old former Hanshin Tigers pitcher struggled early in the season with the A's as a starting pitcher and was reassigned to the bullpen. He appeared in 34 games for Oakland and posted a 5-8 record with an 8.57 ERA in 49⅓ innings, walking 30 batters and striking out 51.

Traded to Baltimore in July 2023, Fujinami had a 2-0 record in 30 appearances with a 4.85 ERA out of the bullpen. He closed out 10 games and earned two saves. In 29⅔ innings, Fujinami fanned 32 and walked 15 batters.

Fujinami, who pitched for the Hanshin Tigers from 2013-22, is set to earn $3.35 million USD (about ¥500 million JPY) for the 2024 season, The Associated Press reported.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura shoots a 3-pointer as Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard defends on February 1 in Boston. (NBAE/GETTY IMAGES/via KYODO)

Basketball

Hachimura Provides Solid Contributions in Lakers' Win Over Celtics

The Los Angeles Lakers snapped a two-game losing streak by beating the host Boston Celtics 114-105 on Thursday, February 1. Lakers forward Rui Hachimura contributed 15 points, eight rebounds, four assists and a block in 33 productive minutes off the bench.

Los Angeles, playing without stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, improved to 25-25. Boston had an NBA-best 37-12 record at the end of the day, including 22-3 at home.

Toyama native Hachimura had back-to-back 16-point efforts in the Lakers' defeats to the Houston Rockets (January 29) and Atlanta Hawks (January 30).

Blowinds Having a Sensational Inaugural Season

The Fukui Blowinds, a first-year franchise in the 18-team B.League third division, have won 28 of their first 31 games, including a series-opening 96-82 home triumph over the visiting Earthfriends Tokyo Z on Saturday, February 3.

Leading the team's on-court success is veteran bench boss Tsutomu Isa, a former Ryukyu Golden Kings and Sunrockers Shibuya head coach. Yoshinobu Hasui is the fledgling team's general manager.

Shooting guard Tray Boyd, an East Tennessee State product, leads the club in scoring (nearly 24.9 points, the second-highest average in B3) in 30 games. Teammate Shuto Tawatari is No 1 in B3 in 3-point shooting accuracy (47.7%, 52-for-109).

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Ukrainian wrestler Aonishiki holds a certificate after winning the fifth-division championship at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan on January 28. (ⒸSANKEI)

Sumo

Ukrainian Aonishiki Captures Jonidan Division Title

Ukrainian jonidan division wrestler Aonishiki recorded a perfect record (7-0) for the second consecutive tournament at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament, which ended on Sunday, January 28 in Tokyo.

The 19-year-old, whose given name is Danylo Yavhusishyn, captured the fifth-tier title in a playoff at Ryogoku Kokugikan against Chiyotaiko, who was also unbeaten in regularly scheduled bouts.

Aonishiki fled the war in Ukraine and arrived in Japan in April 2022. He then made his debut as a jonokuchi grappler in the sport's lowest division in November 2023, winning the jonokuchi division title.

Aonishiki defeats Chiyotaiko in a playoff to win the jonidan division title at the New Year Basho on January 28 in Tokyo. (ⒸSANKEI)

After securing the New Year Basho title, Aonishiki, who stands 180 cm and weighs 125 kg, admitted he coped with nerves while being in the spotlight at the sumo venue.

"I was rather nervous," Aonishiki was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. "It was a really great atmosphere. [And] it was my first time getting up on the dohyo in front of so many people."

As a result of his success in January, Aonishiki is set to compete in the fourth-tier sandanme division at the Spring Basho in March in Osaka.

Ukrainian wrestler Aonishiki (ⒸSANKEI)

"I want to keep getting promoted and that's what I'll focus on," Aonishiki said, according to Kyodo News.

Ukrainian compatriot Shishi (Serhii Sokolovskyi) made his pro sumo debut in the jonokuchi division in 2020. He’s currently a No 7 juryo, having reached the second-highest division in July 2023.

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Quote of the Week 

"The Embassy of Japan in the United States is aware of recent media reports concerning the steps Taylor Swift will need to take to travel from Tokyo after her concert on February 10th to Las Vegas in time to watch the Kansas City Chiefs play in Super Bowl LVIII [on February 11]. Despite the 12-hour flight and 17-hour time difference, the Embassy can confidently Speak Now (capitalized in the statement as a nod to one of her song's titles) to say that if she departs Tokyo in the evening after her concert, she should comfortably arrive in Las Vegas before the Super Bowl begins."

―The Embassy of Japan's statement issued on February 2 about the pop singer's travels and the upcoming Super Bowl.


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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