Today, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu became the first man since 1952 to defend a Winter Olympics single figure skating gold medal with victory in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. This amazing achievement made me curious about Japan's past winter games history, so I decided to take a closer look. Whilst snow filled winters have always been part of Japanese life, this has not been as widely reflected in their winter sporting achievements as one might expect.
In 1928 Japan sent six men to France to compete in the first Winter Olympic Games however, it was not until 1956 in Italy that Japanese skier, Chiharu Igaya, won Japan's first Winter Olympic medal when he won silver in men's slalom.
Members of the Japanese Olympic ice hockey team in 1936.
Sapporo, on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, first won the rights to host the Winter Olympics in 1940, but Japan resigned as the Games' host after its 1937 invasion of China. The 1940 Games were later cancelled. Thirty two years later, the 1972 Winter Olympic Games were finally held in Sapporo. It was the first Winter Olympics to be held outside Europe and North America, and only the third games (summer or winter) held outside those regions overall, after Melbourne (1956 Summer Olympics) and Tokyo (1964 Summer Olympics).
Prior to these games, Japan had never won a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. The host country's fans in Sapporo were boosted when three Japanese athletes, led by Yukio Kasaya, swept the 70 metre ski jumping event for gold (Kasaya), silver (Akitsugu Konno), and bronze (Seiji Aochi). These were the only medals won by Japan in those games. On a historical note, these Games were also the last where a skier won the cross-country gold medal using all-wooden skis. Since this time, top-level skiers use skis made mostly of fibreglass and synthetics.
In 1998 the Winter Olympic Games returned to Japan and were held in Nagano, which is so far the southern most city to host a Winter Olympics, next to Squaw Valley, host of the 1960 Winter Olympics. These games saw 72 nations and 2,176 participants contest 7 sports in 68 events and the introduction of women's ice hockey, curling and snowboarding. National Hockey League players were allowed to participate in the men's ice hockey.
Throughout the history of Winter Olympic Games, Japanese athletes have won the vast majority of their medals in just two sports, skiing and skating. Perhaps it's just coincidence that the very few gramophone needle tins I have shown you here depicting winter sports, in this analogy certainly give rise to art imitating life.
I found it an interesting comparison that in the 1972 winter games there were 1,006 athletes representing 35 nations in 35 events contested in 6 sports. In the 2018 winter games there were 2,920 athletes representing 92 countries in 102 events in 15 sports, making it the first Winter Olympics to surpass 100 medal events. Six new events in existing sports were introduced to the Winter Olympic program in Pyeongchang, including men's and ladies' big air snowboarding, mixed doubles curling, men's and ladies' mass start speed skating, and mixed team alpine skiing.
With increasing talk of global warming and its impact on the ski fields in countries on the western side of the globe, Japan's reputation as one of the worlds premier winter sports destination is steadily growing. It makes perfect sense that Sapporo intends to bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic games, and whilst they wont be making any commemorative gramophone needle tins to celebrate that win if it happens, I nonetheless wish them well with their bid.
The Japanese gold, silver and bronze medal winners in the 1972 ski jumping event.
Thanks to Wikipedia for all the great facts.