The Japan Times newsroom selected the following sports stories as the most important of 2018.
1. Prizes in Pyeongchang: Japan celebrated its best-ever showing at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February. Yuzuru Hanyu defended his men’s figure skating crown, Nao Kodaira set a new Olympic record in women’s speedskating and the women’s curling team captured the delight of the nation on the way to its bronze finish.
2. Two-way star: Shohei Ohtani excelled in his debut season with the Los Angeles Angels as both a hitter and pitcher despite an arm injury that would force him to undergo surgery in October. The 24-year-old became the first major leaguer since Babe Ruth to make 10 starts on the mound and hit 20 home runs in a season.
3. On the rise: Naomi Osaka became the first Japanese player, male or female, to win a Grand Slam singles title with a stunning victory over Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final. The title cemented the Haitian-Japanese phenomenon’s place in the cultural zeitgeist, and the endorsements that poured in after her victory didn’t hurt either.
4. Calling foul: Nihon University defensive end Taisuke Miyagawa’s tackle of Kwansei Gakuin University quarterback Kosei Okuno provoked national soul-searching after Miyagawa accused his coaches of ordering the illegal hit. Nihon University’s team was suspended for the season while coach Masato Uchida was banned from the sport.
5. Abuse of power: Governance problems plaguing Japan’s top sports bodies became a national conversation as a result of several power harassment-related scandals. Four-time Olympic wrestling gold medalist Kaori Icho was among the athletes affected, and domestic boxing was rocked by numerous allegations.
6. Blue steel: Veteran players helped the Samurai Blue rally under replacement boss Akira Nishino to defy low expectations and reach the knockout stage of the FIFA World Cup in Russia. Japan took a 2-0 lead against heavily favored Belgium in the Round of 16 before surrendering the 3-2 game-winner in the closing seconds.
7. Two-times lucky: The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks claimed a second straight Japan Series, defeating the Hiroshima Carp 4-1 after the first game ended in a tie. Hawks catcher Takuya Kai was named MVP after thwarting six stolen base attempts, helping to stifle the Central League’s most explosive offense.
8. Ongoing issues in the ring: Sumo was again beset by scandals outside of the ring this year, including former yokozuna Takanohana’s early retirement due to a 2017 incident that involved an assault on a junior wrestler, as well as yokozuna Kisenosato’s continuing struggle with injuries.
9. Master stroke: Swimmer Rikako Ikee was the talk of this year’s Asian Games after finishing with six gold medals and becoming the games’ first female MVP. Japan finished the event with 205 total medals (75 gold, 56 silver, 74 bronze), good for second on the table behind China.
10. Play of a century: Every Summer Koshien has a Cinderella story and the 100th anniversary of the tournament was no exception with Akita Prefecture’s Kanaashi Nogyo defying the odds to reach the final for the first time. Even a 13-2 defeat to Osaka Toin failed to put a damper on celebrations.