With all eyes on the Tokyo Games, it’s easy to forget that over the winter a bunch of other sports have been carrying on regardless. And the athletes in these events have their eye on a whole other Olympics: Beijing 2022.
Japan’s queen of the ski jump is, of course, Sara Takanashi. Last month, the 24-year-old bagged the 60th World Cup win of her career in Romania, extending her world record for career wins — by men or women — in the sport.
The same day, Ryoyu Kobayashi broke the record for most ski jump World Cup wins by a Japanese man, claiming his 18th career crown at the same meet. Kobayashi, also 24, overtook eight-time Olympian Noriaki Kasai by winning the season’s first and only World Cup on the normal hill.
But there’s more to Japanese winter sports than ski jumping (and skating). In January, Akito Watabe triumphed in the individual Nordic combined skiing World Cup in Finland, clinching his 19th career victory and tying the record for wins on the circuit by a Japanese skier set by Kenji Ogiwara. Since then, Watabe has posted several podium finishes, but No. 20 will just have to wait.
Another one to watch: Yuto Totsuka, who outdueled two-time defending gold medalist Scotty James for his first X Games Aspen gold in January in the men’s snowboard superpipe. A week earlier, Totsuka won the men’s halfpipe at the Laax Open World Cup meet in Switzerland.
Japan has a wealth of snowboarding talent, as evidenced by the fact that Ruka Hirano came in third after James in that event, while in the women’s halfpipe, Japanese snowboarders finished second, third and fourth.