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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Koji Murofushi Battling Malignant Brain Lymphoma

The two-time Olympic hammer throw medalist will undergo a stem cell transplant as part of his medical treatment.

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Koji Murofushi excelled in high-pressure moments as one of the premier hammer throwers of his generation and beyond. 

Now, he’s facing the fight of his life.

Murofushi, 46, is being treated for malignant brain lymphoma. The weekly tabloid magazine Shukan Shincho broke the story in its online edition on Wednesday, April 7. The magazine reported that Murofushi started having symptoms of the illness last fall.

The Japan Sports Agency commissioner has already received steroid treatment and had surgery to treat the rare form of cancer, according to the article.

Murufosuhi won the hammer gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics and bronze at the 2012 London Games.

As part of his treatment, he will undergo a transplant of his stem cells into his brain.

Before taking over as JSA chief last September, Murofushi had served as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics sports director.

“Because this report concerns a personal matter, I’d like to refrain from commenting,” Murofushi said in a statement.

“I’ve made efforts so my work hasn’t been affected up to now, and will work together with everybody concerned to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics successfully.” 

RELATED STORY:
[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Koji Murofushi Steps Into Top Job at Japan Sports Agency

Baseball

Ohtani Off to Strong Start as All-Around Contributor

Shohei Ohtani’s stellar hitting has helped the Los Angeles Angels win six of their first eight games this season.

Serving as the designated hitter in seven games, he’s batting at a .300 clip with three home runs, a triple and a double among his nine hits in 30 at-bats through Friday, April 9. He’s also stolen a pair of bases.

Ohtani went 2-for-5 with a bases-clearing double to center in the second inning and blasted a solo homer to center in the fifth on April 9, sparking the Angels in a 7-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida (the Blue Jays’ temporary home venue during the pandemic).

“Ohtani’s got a very forceful swing,” Angeles manager Joe Maddon told reporters. “It’s definitely not a sugar-coated swing. He’s attacking the pitch.”

The two-way player made his first start on the mound on Sunday, April 4 against the Chicago White Sox at Angel Stadium. Ohtani pitched 4 2/3 innings and allowed two hits, three runs (one earned) and five walks. He struck out seven. 

What’s more, Ohtani became the first MLB pitcher to bat second in a game since 1903, and he crushed a first-inning homer.

Ohtani left the game after colliding with Chicago’s Jose Abreu on a weird play at home plate. 

In the fifth inning with two strikes on Yoan Moncada, Ohtani fired a pitch beyond the reach of catcher Max Stassi. The batter swung and missed, but ran to first because of the dropped third-strike rule. Ohtani wound up covering home plate after Stassi chased after a passed ball, then made an off-target throw to first base in an attempt to get a force play on Moncada. Adam Eaton scored a run.

First baseman David Fletcher’s throw to Ohtani, who covered home plate, resulted in a collision with Jose Abreu. The baserunner slid into Ohtani’s ankles, which upended him and sent him tumbling into Abreu.

Ohtani left the game after that play without a serious injury. But due to a blister on his right middle finger he is out of the starting rotation for a few days, likely to miss one or two scheduled starts. 

Maeda Is First Japanese Pitcher to Win MLB Game in 2021

Minnesota Twins hurler Kenta Maeda picked up his first victory of the 2021 campaign on Wednesday, April 3 against the Detroit Tigers.

Maeda, in his second year with the Twins, also became the first Japanese to record a win in the new season, tossing six innings of seven-hit, two-run ball at Comerica Park in Motown. Minnesota won the series finale 3-2. Maeda walked one batter and struck out seven.

Despite picking up the win, Maeda, who recorded a no-decision on Opening Day, wasn’t completely satisfied with his performance.

“I was able to make a lot of mechanical adjustments [after Opening Day], but there are still pitches that need to be fine-tuned,” Maeda told reporters. “I don’t do well against Tigers batters.”

Maeda credited his teammates for enabling him to win.

“Today, I received a lot of defensive support from my teammates. I’m relieved [to have collected my first win],” he added.

Swimming

Ikee Wins Four Events at National Championships

Rikako Ikee won a pair of events on Saturday, April 10 to raise her total to four victories in as many events at the 97th Japan Swimming Championships.

Ikee finished first in the women’s 50-meter freestyle final (24.84 seconds). She also captured the winner’s award in the 50 butterfly (25.56).

The leukemia survivor won the 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle earlier in the Olympic trials at Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

“I expect the fatigue to hit me hard after this, but the sense of joy is overwhelming at this moment,” Ikee was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. “I’ll try to keep my emotions in check, but I want to congratulate myself on a job well done for winning four titles.”

Ikee did not meet the Japan Swimming Federation qualifying time standards for the races listed above, but she has qualified to compete in the 4×100-medley relay and 4×100-freestyle relay.


Among other notable performances at the national championships, Shoma Sato earned an Olympic berth in the men’s 200-meter breaststroke after winning the event at nationals on Wednesday, April 7. Sato set a national record (2 minutes, 6.40 seconds) in the final.

“I couldn’t see others around me at all, I was just focused on my race from start to finish,” Sato said after the race, according to Kyodo News.

RELATED COVERAGE: SWIMMING | Leukemia Survivor Rikako Ikee Qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

Volleyball

Suntory Men Capture First V. League Crown in 14 Years

The Suntory Sunbirds edged the Panasonic Panthers in the V. League season finale on Sunday, April 4 at Funabashi Arena in Chiba Prefecture.

The Sunbirds, who finished the 2020-21 season with a 31-3 record, won their first title since the 2006-07 campaign.

The 218-cm (7-foot-2) Dmitriy Muserskiy, who helped Russia win the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, had a team-best 28 points for Suntory, and Japan men’s national team outside hitter Masahiro Yanagida contributed 11 points.

The V. League was established in 1994. Suntory nabbed the 2004-05 crown, then won five straight titles from 1999-2004.

“I would like to thank and congratulate the players who won the championship,” Sunbirds coach Kota Yamamura said, according to an article posted on the Asian Volleyball Confederation website. “Our opponent Panasonic Panthers are really a strong team and I expected this to be a tough match. We were able to win with the power of the Sunbirds organization.

“We would like to thank all the people involved and the fans who supported us in this long season. The Sunbirds are a growing team. Let’s continue to raise the excitement for everyone who loves volleyball.”

Tennis

Aoyama, Shibahara Win Miami Open Doubles Title

Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara teamed up to outplay Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani of Brazil in the Miami Open women’s doubles final on Sunday, April 4.

The result? The Japanese duo earned a 6-2, 7-5 victory in Miami Gardens, Florida, and collected its third title of the year.

Previously, the 33-year-old Aoyama and the 23-year-old Shibahara triumphed at the Abu Dhabi Women’s Tennis Open and the Yarra Valley Classic.

Seeded No. 5 in the Florida draw, the victorious pair won the title match in 83 minutes. Aoyama and Shibahara rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the second set and won the final five games to secure the title.

It was the second meeting between the doubles pairs in a final this season, with the Abu Dhabi encounter happening in January.

“Yeah, as you know, we have played Hayley and Luisa many, many times and knew that they were going to fight till the end, get every ball back,” Shibahara said. “I think we started off really well, finding those passing shots when we needed them. 

“Second set they definitely played a lot better, but Shuko really played really well to bring us back in that second set. Then I feel like we fought well together in the end.”

Soccer

Sint-Truiden’s Suzuki Nets 15th Goal of Season

Sint-Truiden striker Yuma Suzuki notched the hosts’ opening goal in a 2-0 victory over Belgian League foe Mechelen on Saturday, April 3.

Suzuki recorded his 15th goal of the season in the 11th minute, receiving compatriot Daiki Hashioka’s long pass and tapping the ball into the net from close range.

The 24-year-old Chiba Prefecture native scored seven goals last season for Sint-Truiden. He increased his goal total to 17 this season by finding his target twice against Waasland Beveren on Tuesday, April 6. Sint-Truiden won 4-2.

Basketball

Ranking the B. League’s Top Teams

Toss out the first- and second-division classifications for a moment and combine the 36 teams for the purpose of a top 10 list.

While the Gunma Crane Thunders’ jaw-dropping 45-3 record is the biggest basketball story to date this season in Japan through Friday, April 9, this reporter isn’t ready to drop the Utsunomiya Brex to the second spot in the JAPAN Forward rankings … yet.

So, without further ado, the top 10:

1. Utsunomiya (41-9). A 23-3 home record is a telling sign about the club’s singular focus: grabbing its first title since the 2016-17 season. Inside strength on offense and defense blends in quite well with the team’s speed and potent perimeter scoring.

2. Gunma (45-3). Coach Fujitaka Hiraoka’s team has stayed out of the spotlight, with the nation’s major media outlets focusing on other sports stories. But that doesn’t mean what the Crane Thunders have accomplished so far isn’t extraordinary. Entering a weekend series starting on April 10, Gunma owned a current 10-game win streak.

3. Ryukyu Golden Kings (37-11). An infusion of new talent over the past two seasons (including center Jack Cooley, who leads B1 in rebounding at 12.1 per game, and high-energy forward Dwayne Evans, who is scoring at a 18.5 point-per-game clip).

4. Chiba Jets (34-11). Star guard Yuki Togashi and offseason acquisition Sebastian Saiz give the Jets a dynamic duo for their high-octane scoring attack.

5. Kawasaki Brave Thunders (35-15). Winners of six straight, the 2021 Emperor’s Cup champions are hitting their stride as the season moves closer to the playoffs. Veteran leaders set the tone for this team.

6. Toyama Grouses (34-17). First-year bench boss Honoo Hamaguchi left the Kyoto Hannaryz after the 2019-20 season. So did do-it-all forward Julian Mavunga, who is the best all-around player in Japan. Like Kawasaki, Toyama is elevating its play at the right time, with eight straight wins to date.

7. Sunrockers Shibuya (32-18). Ryan Kelly, Leo Vendrame, Kosuke Ishii, Charles Jackson and James Michael McAdoo, among others, have steered the Sunrockers toward a playoff berth.

8. Alvark Tokyo (28-21). Injuries have taken their toll for the two-time defending champions. Grabbing a wild-card playoff spot won’t be easy, but remains a possibility.

9. Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (29-21). Like the Alvark, the Diamond Dolphins are hoping to defy the odds and climb past the Sunrockers in the wild-card standings.

10. Nishinomiya Storks (37-17). In addition to Gunma, the Storks have clinched a B2 playoff spot. Nine Storks players on coach Mathias Fischer’s club have knocked down 20 or more 3-point shots.

Grouses Part Ways With Solomon

Veteran American forward Richard Solomon was released after being arrested for suspicion of violating Japan’s Cannabis Control Law, the team announced on Friday, April 9. Solomon’s contract was canceled a day earlier.

The 28-year-old, who was arrested on Tuesday, April 6, last appeared in a game on March 20. He averaged 16.8 points and 10. 1 rebounds in 36 games (17 starts).

“In the future, we will thoroughly raise awareness of the dangers of drugs, and the club will work to prevent recurrence so that this does not happen,” team president Koichi Takado said.

Hachimura Returns to Lineup After Shoulder Injury

Rui Hachimura missed a pair of games with a right shoulder injury before returning to the Washington Wizards lineup on Wednesday, April 7. Hachimura had nine points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists as the visiting Wizards ended a four-game skid by beating Orlando Magic 131-116. 

The Gonzaga University alum scored a team-best 22 points on Friday, April 9 to help lead the Wizards to a 110-107 road win over the Golden State Warriors.

Hachimura is averaging 14.3 points and 5.8 rebounds in his second season in the NBA.

Quotes of the Week

“I regret being negligent of details. I’m really sorry. I’ve caused a lot of trouble to the world of karate, I painfully feel the responsibility for the confusion caused and figured I should reveal my future course of action quickly.”

―Japan Karate Federation technical director Masao Kagawa in a written statement in which he announced his intent to resign. Olympic karateka Ayumi Uekusa, who is regarded as a medal contender in the 61-plus kg kumite division, has accused Kagawa of hitting her in the eye with a bamboo sword in training in January.

“I like my position, but I’ve got to keep working, and hopefully tomorrow I’ll be in the same position or even better.”

―Golfer Hideki Matsuyama on his weekend prospects at the Masters. He was tied for sixth entering the third round at 4-under par. Matsuyama shot a 3-under 69 in the first round and a 1-under 71 in the second round.

“I’m very excited to join the Alphas family. The team is improving and I hope to continue this pattern in the future. I’m also very excited to meet the Koshigaya Alphas boosters and supporters. I would like to support the team with my previous experience and success as a professional player for 22 years.”

J.R. Sakuragi, who retired in 2020, on joining the B. League second division’s Koshigaya Alphas coaching staff as a technical adviser.

Editor’s note: Interested in submitting a news item for possible inclusion in the Japan Sports Notebook? Send an email with relevant information to e.odeven@japan-forward.com, or JAPAN Forward’s comment’s page  or Facebook page and look for future editions of Japan Sports Notebook on our website.

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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