As perhaps much expected, Nadeshiko Japan was the face of the 2011 sports scene in Japan.
The World Cup-winning women’s national squad received the Japan Pro Sports Grand Prize at the annual Japan Sports Awards ceremony at a Tokyo hotel on Tuesday.
Nadeshiko Japan is the second female athlete or all-female team to be selected for the sportsperson of the year award. Golfer Ayako Okamoto won it in 1987. The national team is also the first team of any kind to earn the award since the Urawa Reds in 2007.
“Our ‘small’ players achieved the ‘big’ feat (the World Cup victory) with the support from the Japanese public, and it resulted in receiving such an honorable award,” said coach Norio Sasaki after the ceremony.
Sasaki led Nadeshiko Japan to the first World Cup title by a Japanese team by defeating the United States in a penalty shootout in Germany in July.
Forward Karina Maruyama, who netted the game winner against host Germany in the quarterfinals of the tournament, said: “As we received such a big award, I believe every one of the members will be pleased. I hope we’ll be able to take advantage of it to make the Nadeshiko League more popular.”
The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, Kashiwa Reysol and yokozuna Hakuho were given the Outstanding Performance Awards.
“I think we’ve definitely won the award as a whole team,” said Hawks outfielder Seiichi Uchikawa, the 2011 Pacific League Most Valuable Player.
Uchikawa also referred to the 2012 version of the team, which will start the season without some key players, including pitchers Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi and D.J. Houlton, from the 2011 squad.
“Next season, we’ll be losing some of the core players,” he said. “But we’ll unite our power with the players that will assemble at the start of the training camp on Feb. 1. And the hope is that we’ll be able to please the fans in Fukuoka and all over the nation.”
Compared with the other two recipients for the Outstanding Performance Awards, perhaps Reysol was a stunner. Kashiwa, which was just promoted from the second division this year, grabbed its first J. League championship with MVP Leandro Domingues.
“We didn’t expect to win something like this,” Reysol president Naoki Mitarai said. “But certainly, the whole team, including our coach, Nelsinho, are pleased about it. We still have business to finish in the Emperor’s Cup and will have the Asian Champions League as well. We’ll just keep doing our best.”
Yomiuri Giants right-hander Hirokazu Sawamura, who was named the Rookie of the Year in the Central League with 11 wins and a 2.03 ERA this past campaign, accepted the Best Rookie Award.