• Kyodo

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Maki Tabata gave Japan its first gold medal of the Winter Asian Games when she cruised to victory in the women’s 3,000 and Takahiro Nozaki completed a golden double for the host country on the first day of the speedskating competition Sunday.

National all-around champion Tabata clocked 4 minutes, 29.58 seconds at Nagane Park Speed Skating Rink to finish almost two seconds clear of South Korean Back Eun Bi, who timed 4:31.41.

“I was hoping to go under 4:20 or at least better my time (4:23.90) at the National Championships,” said Tabata, Japanese record holder in the 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 meters. “But I’ve won Japan’s first gold medal and hopefully our other athletes can follow through with more.”

Japan’s Eriko Ishino, silver medalist at last year’s World Junior Championships, won the bronze in 4:34.13 but there was heartbreak for Nami Nemoto, who took a tumble midway through her race and finished last.

Nozaki completed a triumphant day on the rink for the host by coming from behind to edge defending Winter Asian Games champion Radik Bikchantayev in the men’s 5,000.

Roared on by a partisan crowd, Nagano Olympian Nozaki produced a late burst to cross the finish line 0.35 second ahead of the Kazak in 7:06.11 with Japan’s Kesato Miyazaki taking the bronze in 7:12.45.

“Midway through the race I realized I had a lot of ground to make up but I felt I could move up a gear down the final straight,” said Nozaki. “The crowd got right behind me and that gave me extra determination to win.”

In Owani, Aomori Pref., veteran alpine skier Kiminobu Kimura battled from behind to beat Lebanon’s Niki Fuerstauer to win the men’s slalom gold.

Kimura was second after the first run but picked up his pace to clock the fastest time on the second to overcome a deficit of 0.32 second and edge the Lebanese by 0.04 with a total of 1:43.75.

The four-time Olympic veteran blazed the Owani Kokusai Champion course under cloudy skies and freezing temperatures in 52.49 and 51.26. Fuerstauer clocked times of 52.17 and 51.62 to take silver and Japan’s Tetsuya Otaki won bronze in 1:45.52.

In Ajigasawa, Aomori Pref., Japanese snowboarder Daisuke Murakami outclassed all challengers in the men’s halfpipe to clinch gold.

Murakami, who won at the Winter University Games last month in Tarvisio, Italy, was awarded 43.3 points in beating compatriot Takaharu Nakai (41.2) and South Korea’s Han Jin Bae (37.6).

Murakami impressed the judges jumping high in the air with his board on the halfpipe and concluded his first run with a 720-degree “rodeo flip” maneuver to the delight of the crowd at the Ajigasawa Super Pipe.

Meanwhile, Kazak skiers won all six medals on offer in cross country skiing, with Svetlana Malahova Shishkina taking the first gold medal of the Games.

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