By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
As we close out 2018, we take a look back at the year in sports and the many great performances.
The Winter Olympics and World Cup provided some memorable moments worldwide. Also returning to national prominence was Tiger Woods, who won his first major golf tournament in 10 years. Locally, we saw the return to the Rose Bowl for the University of Washington Huskies. Washington State University welcomed the nation’s first Power 5 Conference Asian American athletic director in Pat Chun.
There were also outstanding individual performances from Asian American athletes as we detail below.
10. JoJo McIntosh
The University of Washington senior defensive back made All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention this year in helping the Huskies become one of the more dominant secondaries in the conference. JoJo McIntosh, whose mother is Cambodian, embraces his culture and the youth that follow him because of his Asian roots. In an interview this past September, McIntosh talked about the struggle his mother had while in Cambodia and the frightening times her family experienced when the country was under rule by the Khmer Rouge. McIntosh should get his chance to play in the NFL after his last game in the Rose Bowl for the Huskies.
9. Tua Tagovailoa
The Alabama QB burst onto the scene last January when he replaced starter Jalen Hurts in the NCAA Championship game against Clemson. He led the Crimson Tide to a national title with a 26-23 overtime victory, as he threw the winning touchdown. This season, Tua Tagovailoa took over as the starting QB and rolled through the regular season, oftentimes not playing in the 4th quarter since they were blowing out their opponents. The 20-year-old from Honolulu, Hawaii was the number one high school player in the state when he picked to play for Alabama. Tagovailoa attended the same school as former Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Tagovailoa was one of three players to make it as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy presentation this month.
8. Mirai Nagasu
The figure skater made a return to the Olympics this past winter. Mirai Nagasu, 25, won a bronze in the team figure skating event in Pyeongchang. She also had a strong showing in a very competitive female field in the individual skate placing 10th. She did become the first American woman, and third overall, to land a triple axel in the Olympic Games.
7. Taighan Chea
Only 9 years old, the Bothell golf prodigy is well on his way to becoming a name to look for on the PGA tour in 10 years. Unless, of course, he decides he wants to play in the NBA. The multi-faceted, multi-talented, middle-schooler, Taighan Chea won the Drive, Chip & Putt Finals at the Masters Golf Course in Augusta, Ga. this past April. He sunk a clutch 18-foot putt to secure a victory for his age group. Chea is well-grounded with a lot of interests like most kids his age. He still plays other sports outside of golf, including basketball. He lists Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers and Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors as his favorite players.
6. Alex and Maia Shibutani
The ice dancing brother and sister team earned Bronze Medals at the Winter Olympics for their performance in the team event for the United States. The duo placed second in both segments of the team event and were the first Asian American ice dancers to medal at the Winter Olympics. Alex, 27, and Maia, 24, have decided to take the 2018-2019 season off after a busy 2017-2018. Both, born in New York, attended the University of Michigan.
5. Nathan Chen
Expecting to be in medal contention at the Winter Olympics this past February, 18-year-old Nathan Chen struggled. Chen fell during his short program, which rendered his longer form program futile for prospects of a gold medal. Still, the Utah native did his best and hit a record 6 quadruple jumps in his long form program, which vaulted him back into a respectable 5th place. Chen closed out his 2018 season on a high note with a win at a Skate America event in Everett, Wash. this past fall. Also, of note, Chen began studies at Yale University this year.
4. Taylor Rapp
The junior safety has led the Huskies secondary this year and made the All-American Associated Press second team, awarded to the best at their position. Taylor Rapp, whose mother is Chinese American, has discussed the importance of his heritage.
He believes that he could be a role model to other Asian kids wanting to play football. NFL.com profiled Rapp before the season began. He recalled that there were not many Asian football players in Bellingham, Wash. where he grew up.
Rapp will likely play his last game for Washington in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. He’s projected to be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft and barring injury, will be one of the few Asian American football players in the league.
3. Kyler Murray
On Dec. 8, the Oklahoma Sooners quarterback won the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the nation’s best college football player. Ironically, Kyler Murray has promised the Oakland A’s, which drafted him in the first round, he will play baseball. So, this was his last year of playing college football. Murray was an unbelievable find for the Sooners, as he transferred in for this one year.
He was a dual threat quarterback that could pass and use his legs to run. He will be sorely missed. With the Heisman, it is the second straight year that a Sooners QB has won, with Baker Mayfield earning the award last year.
Murray’s mother is Korean. In interviews, Murray has said that he’d love to take his mother back to her homeland some day.
2. Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka won the U.S. Open this year by defeating her idol, Serena Williams. The 21-year-old was born in Japan. Her father is from Haiti and mother is Japanese.
She moved to New York when she was 3. Her father aspired to have Naomi and her sister to be tennis stars, like the Williams sisters (Serena and Venus). He moved the family to Florida, where there would be more opportunities to learn and play tennis.
Osaka skipped the junior circuit of tennis and went pro when she was 16 years old. In just 5 years of professional tennis, Osaka has made strides in her game, which culminated with this summer’s win at the U.S. Open in New York. Although she lives in the United States, Osaka represents Japan in national tennis events, like the FedEx Cup.
Similar to the Williams sisters, Osaka is known for her powerful forehand and huge serves, which are over 100 miles per hour. The future looks bright as Osaka may take over her idol Serena as the face of tennis in years to come.
It seemed as though most of the snowboarding world was waiting for years for Chloe Kim to burst onto the Olympic scene this past February. Kim tore up the X-Games and other snowboarding competitions across the world, and many anticipated that she would do the same on the biggest stage — the Winter Olympics. For the Korean American, debuting in her first Olympics in North Korea made the experience much more meaningful, as her parents immigrated from South Korea to the United States. With her dad looking on, Kim did not disappoint. She immediately vaulted to the top of the leaderboard, after her runs in the women’s halfpipe.
Kim was far and away the best snowboarder in the half-pipe during the women’s competition. Kim scored 10 points higher than anyone else in the field. She also was the first woman to ever land two 1080-degree spins during competition. At the age of 17, Kim became the youngest woman to win a gold in the women’s half-pipe competition in the Olympics.
Since winning her gold medal, Kim has been a media darling. She appeared on the cover of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box, Barbie is making a doll after her, and Kim has amassed a ton of commercials and has been able to experience the glory of being a celebrity. She also won 3 ESPN ESPY awards, including Best Female Athlete, Best Female Olympian, and Best Female Action Sports Athlete.
Kim is not resting on her gold medal this year. She returned to competition this month and won the women’s Modified Pipe Competition at the Mountain Dew 2018 Tour.
Kim also was accepted into Princeton University this past spring.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.