London Olympic medalists from Shiga Prefecture

Big congratulations to Shiga-native and Shiga-based Olympians who won medals at the London 2012 Olympics. They include Olympians who made history as being Japan’s first Olympic medalist in their sport.

That was Otsu-native KAKIIWA Reika (垣岩 令佳), who won the silver medal along with her partner FUJII Mizuki for Badminton Women’s Doubles. This is Japan’s very first Olympic medal in badminton. Kakiiwa and Fujii made it to the final game after beating Denmark in the quarterfinal and Canada in the semi-final. The final game was against the favored China held on Aug. 5, 2012 after midnight, Japan time. I stayed up late to watch the game live. And what an exciting, fingernail-biting game it was. They rallied back and forth and kept gaining, losing, and regaining points almost forever until the sometimes panicky Chinese duo finally came out on top. Kakiiwa and Fujii fought tooth and nail for each point. The Chinese duo broke down and cried after winning their very hard-earned gold medal, while Kakiiwa and Fujii showed contented underdog faces of doing their utmost. I never knew badminton could be this exciting.

On Aug. 17, 2012, Kakiiwa Reika called on Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko in Otsu to show off her silver medal. She thanked everyone for their support and said it was because everyone’s support that she won the medal. In return, the governor presented her with the Eiyosho Prefectural Citizen’s Sports Award (県民スポーツ賞の「栄誉賞」) on behalf of the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education. The award includes a ceramic trophy in the shape of a sweetfish (ayu) made of Shigaraki-ware. Kakiiwa also visited Otsu Mayor Koshi Naomi at Otsu City Hall and was presented with the Otsu Special Sports Award (大津市体育特別賞).

Shiga’s second medalist is another Otsu native, OTA Yuki (太田 雄貴) who won a silver medal in Foil Team Fencing. This is his second silver Olympic medal as he won silver at Beijing. It was hard for me to understand fencing, but he saved his team and brought them the silver. He will also be awarded the Eiyosho Prefectural Citizen’s Sports Award from the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education for the second time (the first time was for the Beijing medal).

Women’s volleyball generated a lot of excitement in Japan as they finally won an Olympic medal for the first time since 1984 (Los Angeles). Japan was once a volleyball powerhouse and volleyball became an Olympic sport at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. The Japanese women’s volleyball team gloriously won the Olympic gold medal that first year and went on to win a medal (including another gold in Montreal 1976) in the next four Olympics (excluding Moscow which was boycotted) up to 1984. A long-awaited break in this 28-year dry spell and a reminder of Japan’s past volleyball glory have brought much happiness to Japan.

The Japanese women’s volleyball team beat China in the quarterfinals, but lost all three games to Brazil in the semifinals. Then they faced Korea, who had lost to the US, for the bronze. Although there were some worrisome moments, Japan handily beat Korea in all three games. Four members of the Japanese women’s volleyball team are based in Otsu since they belong to the Toray Arrows. ARAKI Erika (荒木絵里香), KIMURA Saori (木村沙織), SAKODA Saori (迫田さおり), and NAKAMICHI Hitomi (中道瞳) all played pivotal roles in their Olympic quest. On Aug. 14, 2012, these four members returned to Toray in Otsu where they showed their bronze medals to a crowd of some 250 corporate colleagues and employees.

Whenever there are winners, there are non-winners (don’t wanna call anyone losers at the Olympics). Here’s how the other Shiga Olympians did:
INUI Yukiko, Duet synchronized swimming: She and her partner KOBAYASHI Chisa placed 5th. This is the first time Japan has not won a medal in Duet synchronized swimming (Olympic sport since 1984).
ABIKO Tomomi, Women’s pole vault: Placed 19th overall and vaulted as high as 4 m 25 cm. Failed to advance to the final round of the top 12 pole vaulters. She will aim for Rio in four years.
YAMAMOTO Ryo, Men’s marathon: Placed 40th at 2:18:34 or about 10 min. behind the winner. He placed higher than compatriot Arata Fujiwara who came in 46th. And NAKAMOTO Kentaro did better than anybody expected by placing 6th. Men’s marathon results here.

Otsukaresama and a big thank you to all these Olympians this summer.

Video at top: Today on Aug. 20, 2012 at 11 am, an unbelievable 500,000 people flooded Tokyo’s Ginza area to see Japan’s Olympic medalists in a ticker-tape parade. This is the first time Japan has ever held an Olympic parade. Japan reaped a record haul of 38 Olympic medals from over 70 medalists. Mainichi Shimbun also has this photo of Kakiiwa (right) and partner Fujii (left) at the parade.