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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Boheng Zhang Edges Daiki Hashimoto in World Gymnastics Championships

Olympic gold medalist Hashimoto collected the silver medal in the men’s all-around event.

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China's Boheng Zhang in action on the horizontal bar during the men's all-around final at the Aritstic Gymnastics World Championships on October 22 in Kitakyushu. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS)

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It wasn’t the encore that his fans had hoped for.

After a glorious experience at the Tokyo Olympics, where he won the men’s all-around title and added a second gold in the horizontal bar competition, Daiki Hashimoto had to settle for second in the all-around at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships on Friday, October 22.

China’s Boheng Zhang was a little bit better from start to finish in the all-around finals at Kitakyushu General Gymnasium.

It was a reversal of fortunes for international debutante Zhang, who trailed Hashimoto by 0.040 points after qualifying on Wednesday, October 20.

In the final, Zhang, 21, was the high scorer on the vault (14.866 points), parallel bars (15.366) and floor exercise (14.833). Zhang received 87.981 points to capture the world title.

Hashimoto, 20, amassed 87.964 points. Ukraine’s Ilia Kovtun, who placed 11th in the all-around at the Tokyo Games, finished third (84.99).


“I’m so excited ー I may stay up all night!” Zhang exclaimed after winning the title. “To be honest, it was a little bit nerve-wracking waiting for Hashimoto’s score [on the horizontal bar]. It was a really close competition. We both had a high level performance today, but I am so happy to be the champion.”

Zhang earned China’s first men’s all-around title since Ruoteng Xiao in 2017.

Hashimoto said the results at the world championship will help him in his development as a gymnast.

“I don’t want to make any excuses,” Hashimoto commented. “There should be no reason why I could not win this time. Maybe I lack something … but I think it will make me stronger, and I am going to take this experience and use it to help me grow even more.”

Hashimoto’s title hopes were reduced with a fall during his pommel horse routine.

Pressure to attain a perfect performance on the horizontal bar was in the back of Hashimoto’s mind, he revealed later.

“[Zhang] was great tonight,” Hashimoto said, according to The Associated Press. “There is no question he is world No. 1. I knew I had to put in a perfect performance on the horizontal bar and that was difficult to do.”

Melnikova Triumphs in Women’s All-Around Final

Russia’s Angelina Melnikova was crowned women’s all-around champion on Thursday, October 21. 

Melnikova amassed 56.632 points in the final round. U.S. teammates Leanna Wong and Kayla DiCello finished second and third with 56.340 and 54.566 points.

The 21-year-old, who was the Olympic all-around bronze medalist, became the third Russian woman to win a world title in the event. Svetlana Khorkina achieved the feat in 1997, 2001 and ’03, and Aliya Mustafina followed in 2010.

“I’m so happy,” Melnikova told reporters. “I did everything I wanted. I had only one month to prepare. I was really surprised I could do all I did today! I feel like I made history.” 

Rugby

Wallabies Beat Brave Blossoms in Action-Packed Clash

Japan exhibited fighting spirit and an abundance of energy in a defeat to Australia on Saturday, October 23.

The Brave Blossoms, coached by Jamie Joseph, fell 32-23 at Showa Denko Dome in Oita.

The match was a valuable international test for Japan in the run-up to its autumn tour in Europe, where the Brave Blossoms will face Ireland (November 6), Portugal (November 13) and Scotland (November 20).

Against Australia, Lomano Lemeki and Ryoto Nakamura both scored a try, while flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda booted two penalties and a conversion.

The Wallabies lead 17-13 at halftime. Japan stayed competitive and found itself within target of a comeback victory trailing 27-20 after a Nakamura try in the 55th minute. 

Yu Tamura’s 74th-minute penalty brought the Brave Blossoms within 27-23.

Four minutes later, a Connal McInerney try extended the Aussies’ lead.

“Big games like this can be decided by little things. We need to keep improving, and come out stronger each game,” Nakamura said after the match, according to Kyodo News.

Japan had to play with only 14 men after Lemeki was ejected for a shoulder charge in the 49th minute.

Ski Jumping

Takanashi Extends National Title Streak to Five

Two-time Olympian Sara Takanashi captured her fifth consecutive national title in the women’s normal hill event on Friday, October 22.

Takanashi, 25, secured the victory at Sapporo’s Miyanomori Ski Jump Stadium  by amassing 236.1 points.

The Hokkaido Prefecture native was in third place after her first jump. She then soared more than 90.5 meters through the air on her next two attempts to claim the win.

Nozomi Maruyama finished 0.3 points behind Takanashi. Yuki Ito was third to earn the bronze medal.

RELATED: [ODDS and EVENS] Sara Takanashi Regains Mojo, Soars to Back-to-Back Victories

Speed Skating

Kodaira Claims Seventh Straight 500-Meter National Crown

Nao Kodaira, the 2018 gold medalist in the women’s 500 meters at the Pyeongchang Olympics, provided a big reminder of her target for the upcoming Beijing Games next February.

The 35-year-old Kodaira zoomed to victory in the 500, her seventh straight title and 12th overall in the event, at M-Wave ice arena in Nagano. Kodaira completed the race in 37.58 seconds, with Miho Takagi placing runner-up in 37.65 on the opening day of the National Single Distance Speed Skating Championships.

“My vector is pointing upward. I feel as though I can improve my time from here,” Kodaira was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

Baseball

Dice-K Makes Final Pitch of Pro Career

Daisuke Matsuzaka faced one batter in a ceremonial final appearance to wrap up his 23-year pro baseball career on Tuesday, October 19.

The Saitama Seibu Lions hurler walked Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters leadoff hitter Kensuke Kondon on five pitches before being relieved by Ken Togame at MetLife Dome.

“I stepped on the mound with a feeling of gratitude to the people who have supported me,” Matsuzaka told reporters, according to The Asahi Shimbun. “I also wanted to take this opportunity to set matters right for myself.”

Indeed, he wanted one more shot at pitching in a game after dealing with numerous health-related setbacks over the past several years.

The 41-year-old Matsuzaka, whose rise to prominence began when he pitched for title-winning Yokohama High School at the Spring Koshien and Summer Koshien baseball tournaments in 1998, played for the Lions from 1999-2006 before joining the Boston Red Sox. Known throughout the baseball world as Dice-K, the right-hander suited up for the Red Sox from 2007-12 before playing his two final MLB seasons with the New York Mets.

The injury-plagued Matsuzaka compiled a 56-43 won-loss record in the majors. He was 114-65 in NPB for the Lions, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (2015-16) and Chunichi Dragons (2018-19). He then rejoined the Lions. He missed the 2020 campaign after having cervical spine surgery. He also missed the 2017 season.

Boston’s Sawamura Keeps Busy in ALCS

The Boston Red Sox summoned veteran reliever Hirokazu Sawamura from the bullpen during Games 1, 3 and 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros.

Houston defeated Boston 5-0 in Game 6 on Friday, October 22 to punch its ticket to the World Series.

Sawamura faced a total of 11 batters in his three ALCS appearances. 

He worked one-third of an inning in the series opener and allowed one hit and one run, while walking one and hitting a batter. In Game 3, he tossed one scoreless inning and fanned one batter. In Game 5, Sawamura pitched another scoreless inning, walking one and striking out one.

Basketball

Baba Rejoins NBA G League’s Texas Legends

After helping the NBL Australian club Melbourne United win a championship last season, free agent shooting guard Yudai Baba signed a contract with the NBA G League’s Texas Legends for the 2021-22 campaign.

The Legends, the Dallas Mavericks’ G League affiliate, announced the finalized deal on Saturday, October 23.

“I’m honored to play for this team again and want to cherish every day to achieve my dream,” Baba, a Tokyo Olympian, wrote on Twitter.

Texas opens its season on November 5 against the reigning G League champion Lakeland Magic. 

Baba, who averaged 8.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 31 games for Melbourne United last season, began his pro career with the B. League’s Alvark Tokyo in 2017. The Toyama native spent the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season with the Legends.

Boxing

‘Monster’ Inoue to Make Title Defense on December 14

Undefeated bantamweight champion Naoya “Monster” Inoue will defend his IBF and WBA world titles on December 14 against Aran Dipaen in Tokyo.

The 28-year-old Inoue (21-0, 18 knockouts) is coming off a third-round technical knockout of Filipino Michael Dasmariñas on June 19 in Las Vegas.

Thai fighter Dipaen is 12-2 (11 KOs) in his pro career. The 30-year-old is the IBF’s sixth-ranked bantamweight.

Soccer

Quick Start Sparks Urawa in Rout of J. League Rival Kashiwa

Midfielder Koya Yuruki scored a pair of first-half goals to help carry the Urawa Reds to a 5-1 victory over Kashiwa Reysol on Friday night, October 22.

Yuruki hit his target in the 15th and 23rd minutes, and the Reds took a 4-1 lead into the intermission at Saitama Stadium.

Despite the comfortable lead at halftime, Reds manager Ricardo Rodriguez wanted his team to maintain an aggressive mindset on offense in the second half.

“Let’s use the space beside the opponent’s midfield,” were remarks he made during the break, according to the team’s official website.

He added: “The match is not over yet. Let’s get additional points and win.” 

Ricardo Rodriguez’s club sat in fourth place in the 20-team J. League after the match, having earned 58 points in 33 matches (17 wins, seven draws, nine defeats).

Third-place Vissel Kobe had 60 points through Friday, Yokohama F. Marinos was No. 2 with 72 points and reigning champion Kawasaki Frontale, who recorded 25 wins, six draws and one loss in 32 matches to date, had 81.

Quote of the Week

“To be honest, I’m disappointed. It feels like we lost a winnable match.”

Kazuki Himeno, the Brave Blossoms’ No. 8, on Japan’s loss to Australia.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.