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A look back at the year’s top 10 Japan sports stories

Japan Times editors selected these domestic sports stories as the most important of 2013.

1) Records fall

Japanese baseball has a historic season. The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles beat the Yomiuri Giants to win the Japan Series for the first time, helped by the unprecedented 24-0 regular-season record of ace pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who won his second Sawamura Award and was also named Pacific League MVP this year. Tokyo Yakult’s Wladimir Balentien also makes history, breaking the single-season home run record of 55 that had stood for almost half a century to finish with 60.

2) Ichiro gets 4,000

Ichiro Suzuki becomes the third player in professional baseball history to reach the 4,000-hit plateau, joining MLB legends Ty Cobb and Pete Rose. Ichiro recorded 1,278 hits while playing for the Orix BlueWave before joining the Seattle Mariners in 2001.

3) Uchimura raises bar

Kohei Uchimura wins his fourth all-around world gymnastics title to stand alone as the most successful gymnast of all time. Uchimura had previously been tied with retired Russian Svetlana Khorkina on three titles each, but the 24-year-old from Fukuoka is now considered by many to be the greatest gymnast ever.

4) Brazil here we come

Japan qualifies for the World Cup for a fifth straight tournament. Good early results put Alberto Zaccheroni’s side within touching distance of Brazil, but it requires a last-minute penalty from Keisuke Honda to claim a 1-1 draw with Australia in Saitama and book its ticket in front of a home crowd for the first time. Japan becomes the first team to qualify for the event.

5) Legends honored

Hideki Matsui, who played his final MLB game in 2012, shares the spotlight with Shigeo Nagashima, another former Yomiuri Giants legend, to receive the People’s Honor Award. The award, presented by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, reminds the nation of the significance of the baseball icons’ career accomplishments.

6) Takanashi takes flight

Sixteen-year-old Sara Takanashi becomes the youngest-ever winner of the individual ski jump World Cup title. Takanashi wins eight of 16 events, finishing on the podium 13 times to finish ahead of rival Sarah Hendrickson of the United States.

7) Blades of glory

Yuzuru Hanyu claims the gold medal at the Grand Prix Final on Dec. 6 in Fukuoka, outperforming three-time world champion Patrick Chan, including a world-record 99.84 points in the short program. On the women’s side, Mao Asada ties Russian Irinia Slutskaya for the most titles (four) in the Grand Prix Final.

8) Clash of the yokozuna

Harumafuji wins the opening and closing tournaments of the sumo year, but rival yokozuna Hakuho triumphs in four straight competitions to move into third on the all-time career titles list (27). Taiho, the record holder with 32 career titles, dies in January. Meanwhile, Kisenosato makes an unsuccessful bid to reach the rank of yokozuna, while Estonian ozeki Baruto retires after struggling with injury.

9) Matsuyama makes waves

Golfer Hideki Matsuyama wins four JGTO events and becomes the first rookie to claim the tour’s money title. The 21-year-old also makes a splash overseas, tying for 10th at the U.S. Open, tying for sixth at the British Open, sharing 19th place at the PGA Championship and being named on the Internationals Presidents Cup team.

10) Davis delight

Singles victories by Kei Nishikori and Go Soeda against Colombia in September secure Japan’s return to the Davis Cup World Group after a one-year absence. In June, Nishikori climbs to No. 11 in the ATP world rankings, the highest place in the 23-year-old Shimane Prefecture native’s career.