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Top sports stories of 2018

The Japan Times newsroom selected the following sports stories as the most important of 2018.

Yuzuru Hanyu skates at an exhibition gala following his medal-winning performance at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Yuzuru Hanyu skates at an exhibition gala following his medal-winning performance at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. | KYODO

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.


Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels practices at the team
Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels practices at the team’s spring training site in Tempe, Arizona, in February. | KYODO

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.


Naomi Osaka kisses the trophy after winning at the U.S. Open in New York in September.
Naomi Osaka kisses the trophy after winning at the U.S. Open in New York in September. | KYODO

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.


Nihon University defensive end Taisuke Miyagawa bows deeply on May 22 at the Japan National Press Club, where he apologized for an illegal tackle and revealed he was forced to make the controversial play by his coach, Masato Uchida.
Nihon University defensive end Taisuke Miyagawa bows deeply on May 22 at the Japan National Press Club, where he apologized for an illegal tackle and revealed he was forced to make the controversial play by his coach, Masato Uchida. | KYODO

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.


Former Japan wrestling coach Kazuhito Sakae makes a public apology for power harassment, or abusing his position of authority, against four-time Olympic gold medalist Kaori Icho.
Former Japan wrestling coach Kazuhito Sakae makes a public apology for power harassment, or abusing his position of authority, against four-time Olympic gold medalist Kaori Icho. | KYODO

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.


Soccer fans display a banner that reads
Soccer fans display a banner that reads ‘Osako hanpa naitte,’ which translates loosely as ‘Osako is way too good,’ as they cheer forward Yuya Osako during the World Cup in Russia this past summer. | KYODO

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.


Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo is tossed in the air after his team won the Japan Series title in November.
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo is tossed in the air after his team won the Japan Series title in November. | KYODO

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.


Ongoing issues in the ring: Sumo stablemaster Takanohana announces his resignation from the Japan Sumo Association at a news conference in September.
Sumo stablemaster Takanohana announces his resignation from the Japan Sumo Association at a news conference in September. | KYODO

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.


Swimmer Rikako Ikee competes during the Asian Games in Jakarta in August.
Swimmer Rikako Ikee competes during the Asian Games in Jakarta in August. | KYODO

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.


Members of Kanaashi Nogyo bend backward while singing their school anthem after winning a game at the National High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium in August.
Members of Kanaashi Nogyo bend backward while singing their school anthem after winning a game at the National High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium in August. | KYODO

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.