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[ODDS and EVENS] The Indy 500 Adds to an Exciting Spring on the Sports Calendar

Takuma Sato, winner of the Indy 500 in 2017 and 2020, is with a new racing team this season. Can he win the prestigious race again?

My mind is racing at about 100 miles per hour, with a dizzying array of thoughts on the sports world, including the upcoming Indy 500. There's so much to watch and review later via articles, videos, podcasts, etc.

How do we keep up with everything that's happening in Japan and overseas?

It's a time of year with an appealing blend of major sports events. Take the recent Kentucky Derby, for example. There's also the ongoing 15-day Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo, the NPB and J.League seasons, the UEFA Champions League (Manchester City and Inter Milan are set to play in the final on June 10). And there is much more to occupy our time  ― as well as ongoing intrigue as we follow the action.

In the 107th Indy 500, don't forget that veteran driver Takuma Sato is getting ready to compete in the famous race for the 14th year in a row.

Sato, 46, won the race for the first time in 2017 as an Andretti Autosport driver. He became the 20th car pilot to claim multiple Indy 500 titles in 2020, driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at the time.

Revving up his Deloitte Honda for his new racing team (Chip Ganassi Racing), which he joined in the offseason, Sato had the fastest time on the speed chart on Wednesday, May 17. That was the first day of practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Sato clocked 39.2261 seconds (229.439 mph, or 369.246 kph) for his best lap.

Teammates Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou are also getting ready for May 28's Indy 500, which gets underway at 1:45 AM JST on Monday, May 29.

Indy 500
Takuma Sato signs an autograph during Indy500 practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 17. (Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY SPORTS)

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Indy 500 Preparations

Sato is pursuing something that is unique in many professional sports: a potential major title with a third different team in his career. It's something that rarely happens in North America's Big Four sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL). But for many elite-level race-car drivers and horse racing jockeys, working for various owners and winning major events throughout their careers is not unusual.

The Tokyo native operated his car for 93 laps in his first Indy 500 practice session.  He commented on working for Chip Ganassi Racing on the same day. 

"The organization is very impressive," Sato said. "Everything is in the right place and the right people. They use their resources and make the most of it. Preparation is simply impressive.

"Today on the track, all four drivers divided a few different programs. I wasn't particularly happy with the kind of sensation I was getting [with the car] in the morning. We're just working on what's the best way. In the afternoon, the group run by Ganassi was a great hint for me about what needs to be done."

Smorgasbord of Spring Events

Pro basketball is also in the spotlight in the United States, with only four teams left in the NBA title chase. 

Can the retooled Los Angeles Lakers reach the NBA Finals after dropping Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals on Tuesday, May 16? If so, the Lakers' Rui Hachimura will become the first Japanese player to reach the NBA Finals.

Clearly, Hachimura maintained his confidence level with a 17-point effort against the Nuggets in the series opener. But Denver imposed its will on Los Angeles, which trailed by 21 points, before the visitors chipped away at the lead.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura drives to the basket in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the Denver Nuggets on May 16 in Denver. (AP/via KYODO)

It was a wakeup call for the Lakers, according to LeBron James, the league's all-time leading scorer.

"Yeah, it took us a half to get into the game," James said, according to The Associated Press, "and that was pretty much the ballgame right there. They punched us in the mouth to start."

While looking forward to the rest of the NBA playoffs, fans can also eagerly anticipate the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup (August 25-September 10), which tips off in less than 100 days in Okinawa City, Manila and Jakarta.

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Kudos to B.League Fans

Thirty-eight teams competed in the B.League's first and second divisions during the 2022-23 regular season. And don't forget the 16 teams from B3 (third division) that also occupied fans' attention from the preseason to the playoffs.

Some basketball fans closely follow more than one team among the 54 noted above. Others are passionate supporters of players from numerous teams. 

Throughout the season, you can see fervent fan support for the B.League and its burgeoning culture across the vast social media landscape. Team apparel is also showing up on random faces in places across Japan's 47 prefectures. It's a sign of the league's firm establishment being in place, which it should be by now (the league's inaugural season began in the fall of 2016).

Credit the B.League's fans for making the hoop circuit a relevant part of Japan's sporting landscape. For without them, the many thrilling game highlights and outstanding athletes who play in the league would be without real value.

Ginwoo Onodera (ⒸSANKEI)

Growing Significance of Skateboarding

As mentioned above, there's a plethora of events taking place this spring. Another one is the Japan Rugby League One championship final (Saitama Wild Knights versus Kubota Spears) on May 20 in Tokyo. 

But that shouldn't discount the achievements of athletes in a wide range of sports, such as skateboarders who participated in the X Games Chiba at Zozo Marine Stadium on May 14.

The 15 skateboarders who participated on Sunday, the event's final day, made the most of the opportunity.

Youthful vigor and talent were on display, pushing the sport in the right direction ― as a viable profession for motivated athletes. 

Among the top highlights from the weekend action at the Chiba Lotte Marines' ballpark was the opportunity for fans to see the next generation of skating stars and up-and-coming talent.

Such as?

Ginwoo Onodera, who is only 13. Yet he maintained his poise and completed his full gamut of tricks with precision and fluidity. Onodera won the men's skateboarding street gold medal, receiving 90.33 points from the judges.

Onodera, a Yokohama native, is the youngest X Games gold medalist in the event. His victory in Chiba demonstrated that his third-place showing at the Skateboarding Street World Championships in February in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, was no fluke.

Ginwoo Onodera in action during the X Games Chiba street skateboarding event on May 14. (KYODO)

Hawk Hails Onodera's Performance

American skateboarding pioneer Tony Hawk, 55, summed up the significance of Onodera's feat in Chiba.

"In the last few years, we've seen some of the best skaters and athletes coming from Japan, including what you just saw with Ginwoo winning the street," Hawk commented at Zozo Marine Field, according to Kyodo News. "It's just really fun to be participating in skateboarding for so long, since the '80s, to see it come this far and to see the excitement here in Japan."


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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