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[NOTES on a SCORECARD] Javelin Star Haruka Kitaguchi’s Summer to Remember

A pair of Diamond League victories and a bronze medal at the world championships serve notice of Kitaguchi’s rise to stardom.

Javelin thrower Haruka Kitaguchi, bronze medalist at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon. (KYODO)

Haruka Kitaguchi, who made history in July with her bronze medal in the women’s javelin at the World Athletics Championships in the United States, added to her medal haul on August 6 when she won the Diamond League meet in Chorzow, Poland, with a throw of 65.10 meters.

Kitaguchi’s victory was her second of the Diamond League season, following her triumph at the meet in Paris in June. The Japan record holder in the javelin at 66.00, Kitaguchi made the podium again on August 10 at the Diamond League event in Monaco where she came in second behind Australia’s Kelsey-Lee Barber.

The 24-year-old from Asahikawa, Hokkaido, is trending in the right direction with just two years to go until the 2024 Paris Olympics. Though Kitaguchi, who is 179 cm and 86 kg, was a revelation for many viewers watching TV in Japan during the worlds, she is no flash in the pan. She won the gold medal at the World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia, in 2015 at 17.

Kitaguchi’s bronze in Eugene, Oregon, may just be a footnote to many now, but her pure, spontaneous joy at earning the honor embodied to me what sports are all about.

She heaved a toss of 63.27 on her final attempt on July 22 to earn a place on the podium with gold medalist Barber (66.91) and silver medalist Kara Winger (64.05) of the United States.

Kitaguchi, who trains under coach David Sekerak in the Czech Republic, wept with joy when it became clear that she had become the first Japanese woman in history to win a medal in a throwing event at the world championships or Olympics. She was so emotional after her achievement that she continued to cry even during her post-competition interview.

It was the kind of beautiful moment that those watching will never forget and illustrated that sports at their core are about excelling and the satisfaction that comes with it. 

Money is nice, fame is great, but succeeding in the arena is what matters most to athletes. Nothing surpasses the joy of success in competition.

Kitaguchi posted a heartfelt message on Twitter after collecting her bronze medal on July 22.

“Thank you for your encouragement!” Kitaguchi wrote. “I am very happy to be able to make history. Even if I was told that I was different from other people, I am glad that I have been on my own path. The challenge will continue. Thank you for your support.”

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Triathlete Miyazaki Dies in Training Accident

Anytime a young person dies it is a tragedy, but especially so when the individual is just starting to come into their own. Such was the case with Tsudoi Miyazaki, a 25-year-old triathlete from Toyama Prefecture, who died while riding her bike near Orleans, France, on July 27, just days after competing in a World Cup event in Pontevedra, Spain.

Miyazaki won the Japan Under-23 Triathlon Championships in 2019 and was expected to be one of the Hinomaru’s best medal hopes in the event at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

World Triathlon said in a press release announcing Miyazaki’s death that local authorities in France were investigating the accident.

Japan Sumo Association Moves into the 21st Century

The Japan Sumo Association recently started an English YouTube channel, “Sumo Prime Time” to help promote the sport overseas. Talk about long overdue, this is something that should have been done 10 years ago.

The JSA is a typical example of a bureaucratic athletic organization that for years couldn’t see the forest for the trees. For the longest time it had posted on its official website a message that read: “There is no English spoken in this office.”

Domestic interest and participation in sumo has been declining for years largely due to the fact the sport has been dominated by foreigners. Trying to grow the sport outside the country is a logical and wise move going forward as people overseas associate the ancient and traditional sport with Japan.

Osaka’s On-Court Struggles Continue

Naomi Osaka’s athletic performances continue to trend downward. The four-time Grand Slam champion, who split with her coach last month, lost in the second round of the Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, California, on August 5 to fellow American Coco Gauff in straight sets (6-4, 6-4).

Osaka then traveled to Toronto for the National Bank Open where she retired from her first-round match against Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi in the second set due to a back injury while trailing 7-6 (7-4), 3-0.

The 24-year-old Osaka, who has been struggling with fitness for months, has lost in the first or second round of the last three tournaments she has entered, which is not encouraging considering the US Open is just a few weeks away.

Matsuyama Out of St. Jude Championship as Drama Builds About Future

Hideki Matsuyama has withdrawn from the FedEx St. Jude Championship (August 11-14) with a neck injury. The 30-year-old Matsuyama is still hoping to play in the BMW Championship (August 18-21) in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Tour Championship (August 25-28) in Atlanta.

The real news will come after the Tour Championship concludes when Matsuyama may announce that he has joined LIV Golf. Rumors have been circulating for weeks that the Ehime Prefecture native has already signed on to join the fledgling circuit for a staggering sum in the neighborhood of ¥50 billion JPY (nearly $375 million USD).

Kikuchi’s Mediocrity Continues with Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Yusei Kikuchi got shelled in a start against the Baltimore Orioles on August 8, giving up three home runs and five earned runs in five-plus innings in a 7-4 road loss. The defeat dropped the southpaw’s record to 4-6 this season with a 5.13 ERA.

One has to wonder what the shelf life of the 31-year-old Kikuchi is in MLB. The Iwate Prefecture native’s career record is 19-30 in four seasons with a 5.00 ERA.

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Kikuchi, a former ace for the Seibu Lions, is making $12 million USD (¥1.6 billion JPY) this season in the first year of a three-year, $36 million (¥4.8 billion) contract with the Blue Jays. He is earning $1 million a month essentially, but the numbers to justify that salary are just not there.

New Arena on Tap in Nagoya

Ground was broken July 27 for a new 15,000-seat arena in Nagoya that will host basketball, figure skating, concerts and other events. The Aichi International Arena will be located in the city’s Kita-ku, 13 minutes by subway from Nagoya Station, and is slated to open in the summer of 2025.

The project is being funded by a consortium that includes the Maeda Corporation, NTT Docomo, Anschutz Sports Holdings, and Chubu Nippon Broadcasting.

It is great to see some investment in new arenas in a country that is sorely in need of them. Hopefully the city of Sapporo will be the beneficiary of a similar new venue to replace the outdated Makomanai Ice Arena (built in 1970) if it wins the right to host the 2030 Olympics.

Yuna Kim to Marry Singer Rim

Congratulations to retired South Korean skating star Yuna Kim, the gold medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, who announced recently that she is engaged to singer Koo Wo Rim.

Kim hung up her skates in 2014 following the Sochi Olympics where she was awarded the silver medal in controversial circumstances. The 32-year-old Kim has been dating Rim, 27, for the past three years after meeting at an ice show, her agency All That Sports revealed in a statement.

Kim’s battles with three-time world champion Mao Asada helped propel the popularity of skating in Asia before Yuzuru Hanyu came on the scene.


Author: Jack Gallagher

The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world’s foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, here, and find him on Twitter @sportsjapan.

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