Five stories on how the disaster of March 2011 drove athletes to against-all-odds victories, offering hope to a battered nation and inspiring the next generation:
- J. League teams Kawasaki Frontale and Vegalta Sendai, the latter of which is based in tsunami-hit Miyagi Prefecture, have forged a close bond that started with an emotional encounter six weeks after 3/11, writes Dan Orlowitz. That match-up was repeated Saturday, although COVID-19 curbs kept Frontale fans away — and the final score was very different.
- Then-fourth-grader Jun Endo remembers watching on TV from Fukushima as Japan beat the U.S. in the Women’s World Cup final just months after 3/11, and thinking she was “definitely going there” one day. Unable to train outdoors for a year after the nuclear disaster and having faced discrimination from other teams, Endo is now a contender for Japan’s Olympic soccer team.
- Kento Momota was a 16-year-old student at a high school in Fukushima Prefecture at the time of 3/11. Ten years and several personal disasters later, Momota is the world’s top-ranked men’s badminton singles player and the Tokyo 2020 gold medal favorite. “I am going to carry everyone’s emotions and take them with me to the Olympic stage,” he tells Kyodo.
- “The strength of the people of Sendai and Japan during that time was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen,” ex-Tohoku Rakuten Eagles pitcher Darrell Rasner tells Jason Coskrey, remembering 3/11. “How everyone came together after that massive disaster and were able to pull together.” The team rallied to the cause, eventually clinching the PL pennant and the Japan Series in 2013, cheering fans in the disaster-wracked region.
- Passion for rugby, meanwhile, is offering a beacon of hope in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, which was ravaged by the 2011 quake and tsunami. “We were able to aim for the same goal, the World Cup” of 2019, says Yoshihiko Sakuraba, manager of the Kamaishi Seawaves rugby club, of his relationship with the city in the decade after the disaster. “That became a great asset.”