Japan’s delegation chief Yasuo Saito on Sunday hailed the country’s athletes for a “job well done” at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Japan captured a record 13 medals, including four gold, four more than the nine-medal harvest the Japanese Olympic Committee had targeted in South Korea.
Four years ago at the Sochi Games, Japan won a total of eight medals and only one gold.
“Coming to Pyeongchang, we were aiming for multiple gold medals and the final objective was to win more medals than the eight we won in Sochi,” said Saito.
“We want to make this a huge springboard going toward (the) Tokyo 2020 (Summer Olympics). That was the objective starting out. I would like to say from the heart thank you to all the Japanese athletes, a job well done.”
All four of Japan’s gold came in ice events.
Yuzuru Hanyu carved his name into the pantheon of men’s figure skating legends by defending his title with a 1-2 finish alongside compatriot Shoma Uno — a feat made all the more remarkable since he was competing for the first time since October, having suffered a serious ankle injury in November.
Meanwhile, girl power brought success on the speed skating track. Nao Kodaira won the 500 meters, Nana Takagi won the mass start and was part of the group, alongside her younger sister Miho, that clinched the team pursuit gold medal two months after the same crew had rewritten its own world record for the second time.
Miho Takagi also won silver and bronze in the 1,500 and 1,000 meters, respectively. Nana became the first Japanese athlete to finish a Winter Games with two gold medals since ski jumper Kazuyoshi Funaki did the same at the 1998 Nagano Olympics in Japan.
“The entire skating team won one medal in Sochi and eight here. (That is) conspicuous excellence,” said Saito.
Saito described an emotional moment shared between Kodaira and South Korean Lee Sang Hwa after Kodaira’s victory over her rival in the 500 as a memory that would live on.
Kodaira and Lee, the world record holder and two-time defending Olympic champion, hugged on the track after the race and spoke of their mutual respect, perhaps briefly helping to thaw the often frosty political relationship between the two countries.
“That was a symbol of the friendship between the two countries and I think this is a memory that will long live in both South Korea and Japan,” said Saito.
“A beautiful scene, the winner and the silver medal winner, both of them just hugging and showing respect to each other.”
Among other medalists who helped the Japanese cause was snowboarder Ayumu Hirano, who was denied a place on the top of the podium by American superstar Shaun White in the men’s halfpipe final.
Sara Takanashi clinched bronze four years after finishing out of the medals in Sochi, where women’s ski jumping made its Olympic debut and greeted her as overwhelming gold medal favorite.
Women’s curlers from the Hokkaido city of Kitami captured not only the hearts of fans back in Japan but also the country’s first Olympic medal in the sport, winning bronze after missing out on a place in the final with an extra-end defeat by host South Korea.
But while Japan’s performance was a success, short-track speed skater Kei Saito’s positive doping test left a bad taste.
Saito denied intentionally doping to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He agreed to leave the Olympic village and has been provisionally suspended from all International Skating Union competitions.
Saito emphatically denied knowingly taking acetazolamide, a drug used to treat conditions like glaucoma, altitude sickness and epilepsy that can be used as a masking agent for steroids.
“We met with the International Olympic Committee and CAS and together with legal reps have been working to deal with the situation with the best possible outcome,” JOC’s Yasuo Saito said.
“We agreed with the IOC that we will reopen the case and continue with the procedure after these games. With the consent of the athlete in question, we will take necessary steps and proceed to appeal to CAS. We are prepared to do everything and give all the support we can to the athlete.”
Strong winds and bad weather forced several snow events to be rescheduled at the Pyeongchang Games, giving observing Tokyo Games organizers some learning moments with two and a half years before the Olympics will be staged once again in East Asia.