By Jason Cruz
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. In this edition, tennis star Naomi Osaka chooses Japan, we take a look at Japan’s signature win in rugby, and a 71-year-old marathoner keeps breaking records.
Osaka gives up U.S. citizenship to play in Olympics
Two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka says she intends to represent Japan at next year’s Tokyo Olympics. The Olympic Channel says Osaka, who plays under a Japanese flag in WTA events and in the Fed Cup, has told national broadcaster NHK that she has started proceedings to renounce her U.S. citizenship and choose Japanese citizenship.
She told NHK that it gives her “a special feeling to try to go to the Olympics to represent Japan.”
Osaka holds dual nationality with Japan and the United States. She was born to a mother from Japan and a father from Haiti.
According to Japanese law, those with dual nationality must choose one before turning 22 years old. Osaka’s 22nd birthday was on Oct. 16.
Japan embraces Rugby World Cup and upsets favorite
The country of Japan has embraced the sport of rugby and received its biggest win as a country over the number one ranked team from Ireland in preliminary pool play. The win was made more special considering Japan hosted the rugby World Cup—a first for an Asian country. The “Brave Blossoms,” as the national team is known, earned the victory in front of 47,000 partisan fans. Although the match was a part of pool play, Japan sits atop the standings with an opportunity to play in the quarterfinals if they were to advance.
The sport of rugby is relatively new to the country, although it is gaining traction. There are 16 foreign-born players on Japan’s 31-man national squad. While rugby has been a sport dominated by the Oceanic countries of New Zealand, Australia, and Samoa, the Irish team was ranked number one going into the World Cup. As highlighted by the country winning the right to host the event, the country is warming up to the sport.
While the Brave Blossoms are still a longshot to win this year’s Rugby World Cup, it is making strides and the popularity is rising. Matches for the Rugby World Cup will be held in 12 Japanese cities and around 600,000 international rugby fans will be visiting the country to support their teams.
In order to accommodate the rugby fans, “Hub,” a British-style pub chain in the country, will cater to visitors wanting to watch the matches on television. One of the instructions that tournament owners gave bars and restaurants in areas near where the matches will take place: don’t run out of beer. While this may seem like an afterthought in preparing for an event, the executive director for the Rugby World Cup stated that “running out of beer could ruin Japan’s reputation for hospitality on social media.”
Heineken is hoping to get a 70 percent sales bump during the tournament in its role as the official beer of the 2019 World Cup.
71-year-old keeps running to break her own records
Jeannie Rice attempted several times to break her age group world record in the half marathon. At the age of 71, the grandmother is one of the few women in her division. This past August, she broke through as she surpassed the previous record by more than 30 seconds, with a time of 1:37:07. She averaged 7:25-per-mile over the 13.1 miles, which is a blazing pace for someone in their 20s, let alone in their 70s.
Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Rice moved to the United States when she was 19 and did not start running until she was 35 as a way to lose a couple of pounds. After a neighbor asked her to run in a local 5-mile race, her competitive spirit ignited with her new hobby. She began to train in earnest and competed in her first marathon in 1984.
Since then, she estimates that she has run more than 100 marathons, averaging four to six a year.
In October 2018, she broke the 70-plus women’s world record when she ran the Chicago Marathon in 3 hours, 27 minutes, and 50 seconds, which bested the previous record by almost 8 minutes.
Most recently, she was first in her age division at the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 29. Her time was a very fast 3 hours and 24 minutes to complete the 26.2-mile course, and it beat her previous world record time at the Chicago Marathon. Now, her goal is to win her age group at each of the six races in the World Marathon Majors. She’s won her age group in the Boston, New York, Chicago, and Berlin Marathons. She has the Tokyo and London marathons left.
Rice, who works as a realtor in Concord, Ohio for half the year and lives in Florida the other half, uses her down time to train and travel to races. She trains seven days a week, averaging 10 miles per day. Her workouts vary each day from speedwork, to endurance training, to tempo running. Despite the constant running, she has not suffered any sustained injuries and attributes this to a steady rotation of running shoes.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.