Japan at the Winter Olympic Games
Japan has competed at the Winter Olympics every four years since 1928, with the exception of 1948 following World War II.
Japan has hosted the Winter Olympics on two occasions: the 1972 Sapporo Games and the 1998 Nagano Games.
The country’s best finish in the medal standings was in Nagano with 10 medals overall-including five golds.
Japan, however, has only won a combined 10 golds in Winter Olympics competition, with no more than one at any other Games.
The following list provides brief information on the men and women that I consider to be Japan’s best all time at the Winter Olympic Games:
Japan’s best in Winter Olympics history
Shizuka Arakawa: The lone medalist for Japan at the 2006 Winter Olympics, Arakawa impressed for the gold in women’s figure skating at the Turin Games. Arakawa was in third place after the short program but a brilliant free skate propelled her to the title.
Mao Asada: One of the best ladies’ figure skaters in the world for the past several years, Asada took the silver four years ago at the Vancouver Games behind the record-setting performance of South Korea’s Yu-na Kim. Asada also has two World Championships titles among her many career accomplishments.
Kazuyoshi Funaki: Funaki was a dominant ski jumper throughout the 1990s. He counts three Olympic medals from the Nagano Games at the top of his list of accomplishments. He earned golds in the Individual large hill and the Team large hill events, as well as the silver in the Individual normal hill.
Yuzuru Hanyu: At just 19 years of age, Hanyu was Japan’s sole gold medalist at the just-concluded Sochi Games with the men’s figure skating title. Hanyu compiled a world-record score in the short program and did well enough in the free skate to take home the gold.
Chiharu Igaya: The first Japanese to earn a podium finish at the Winter Olympics, Igaya won a skiing silver in the Men’s slalom in 1956. Igaya, a three-time Olympian, helped spur greater interest in the sport back home through his accomplishments.
Midori Ito: With the weight of a nation’s expectations on her shoulders for the ladies’ figure skating gold in 1992, Ito came up short at the Albertville Games, settling for silver. A powerful skater, Ito performed unprecedented triple jumps and other combinations for women during her stellar career.
Noriaki Kasai: Kasai has had a record-setting career in ski jumping. Now 41 years of age, he has competed in more World Cup ski jump competitions than any other athlete. Kasai has three Olympic medals to his credit-two silvers and a bronze-with one silver and the bronze earned just days ago at the Sochi Games, making him the oldest Olympic medalist in history in his sport.
Takafumi Nishitani: Nishitani won Japan’s first gold in short-track speed skating by taking the 500-meter title at the Nagano Games. Nishitani circled the oval in 42.86 seconds for the victory on home ice.
Tae Satoya: Satoya skied the demanding moguls for a pair of medals overall from the 1998 and 2002 Olympics. She won gold at home in her first Olympic appearance, and then took bronze four years later at the Salt Lake City Games.
Hiroyasu Shimizu: Japan’s greatest speed skater, Shimizu was a 16-time medalist-with five golds-at the World Championships spanning the years 1993-2005. At the Olympics, Shimizu captured three medals, with gold in the 500 meters in front of the home crowd in 1998.
Men’s Ski Jumping-Normal Hill: (1972) Japan’s talented threesome of Yukio Kasaya, Akitsugu Konno, and Seiji Aochi took the gold, silver, and bronze medals respectively in front of an ecstatic crowd at the Sapporo Games.
Men’s Team-Nordic Combined: (1992) Japan’s top-notch trio of Reiichi Mikata, Takanori Kono, and Kenji Ogiwara demonstrated outstanding skill and versatility in multiple disciplines on the way to gold in 1992.
Men’s Team-Nordic Combined: (1994) Japan made it consecutive golds in the event by repeating as champions at the Lillehammer Games in 1994. Aided by the IOC decision to hold another Winter Olympics two years after the previous one to have an Olympics in all even years, Japan’s gold-medal-winning trio included repeat winners Takanori Kono and Kenji Ogiwara, as well as newcomer Masashi Abe.
Men’s Ski Jumping-Team Large Hill: (1998) Japan’s quartet at the Nagano Games comprised Takanobu Okabe, Hiroya Saito, Masahiko Harada, and Kazuyoshi Funaki. They jumped their way to gold in front of a boisterous home crowd in Nagano. They were lauded as national heroes in the aftermath of their victory, similar to Japan’s ski jumping medal winners at the Sapporo Games in 1972.
All statistics and other athlete information can be found at the sports reference site.
Patrick Hattman lived in Japan for more than a decade and continues to closely follow the country’s best athletes and team sports.