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Olympics: Japan's curling team lifts sprits in Turin+
[February 19, 2006]

Olympics: Japan's curling team lifts sprits in Turin+


(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)TURIN, Italy, Feb. 19_(Kyodo) _ In what has been an absolute train wreck so far for Japan at the Turin Olympics, the women's curling team provided a spirit booster on Sunday with a chance of booking a spot in the semifinals.



Japan, which has no medals after nine days of competition, beat defending Olympic champion Britain 10-5 in women's curling, keeping alive its hopes of making the final four in a sport that appears to be gaining in popularity overnight.

The reason? Japan has already missed out on medals in speed skating, freestyle skiing and ski jumping -- arguably some of its strongest Olympic sports. Curling is looking to emerge as one of its last remaining hopes, other than women's figure skating.


Fresh from pulling off an upset win over curling heavyweight Canada and coming on the brink of beating Sweden in an extra end Saturday, Japan led 6-1 through five ends and 7-5 through eight after Britain rallied with three points in the sixth.

Britain conceded the match after nine ends after skip Ayumi Onodera made no mistake in converting a chance to earn three points and helped improve Japan's record to 3-4 with two matches left in the 10-team round-robin preliminaries.

"I'm happy that we beat the Salt Lake City gold medalist. I'm glad especially with the fact that we got three points in the ninth end and made them concede the match, although we'd already secured two points before my last throw," Onodera said.

Japan needs to win against both Italy and Switzerland in its final preliminary round matches Monday to stand any chances of claiming a spot in the semifinals. The Swiss have already qualified with six wins along with leader Sweden, which has notched seven wins, while Norway and Canada follow with five wins.

In speed skating, Sayuri Yoshii made a strong effort but finished in 15th for the best showing among Japanese competitors in the women's 1,000 meters.

Yoshii, making her Olympic debut, clocked a time of 1 minute, 17.58 seconds. Tomomi Okazaki, making her fourth Olympic appearance, came 16th in 1:17.63 while national record holder Aki Tonoike and Maki Tabata shared a tie for 17th in 1:17.64.

"I'm satisfied. I feel like I was able to skate to the best of my ability and I went on the aggressive from the start," said Yoshii. "I want to take care to live each and every day the best I can and find something new to challenge."

Captain of the Japanese delegation, the 34-year-old Okazaki came to Turin nursing a cold. That was one of her only regrets as she missed out on a podium spot with a fourth-place result in the women's 500 five days ago.

"I decided to go for it from the start and I just had to figure out how long I could keep going. I felt that I wasted the 500-meter event some because I didn't come here healthy," said Okazaki, who had the fastest time over the first 200 meters of the 1,000.

Suguru Kiyokawa and Ryuichi Kobayashi, both of whom had to wait until the beginning of this month before the International Olympic Committee approved their qualification due to a mixup over athlete quotas, came 27th after three runs sand failed to make the final run.

"It's really disappointing not to make the fourth heat but this result is the best of our efforts. We need to up our time when pushing the sleigh in the start in order to compete against the best in the world," Kiyokawa said.

In the original ice dance, Nozomi Watanabe and Akiyuki Kido of Japan were in 16th ahead of Monday's free dance. Russian pair Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov took the overall lead.

Elsewhere, veteran ski jumper Masahiko Harada saw his fifth trip to an Olympic Games end in misery after failing to make the lineup for Japan for the team event.

Harada will now head home even without putting his name on the official standings of any of the three ski jumping events at the Turin Games after being disqualified from the normal hill and left out of the large hill.

National coach Kari Ylianttila named Daiki Ito, Tsuyoshi Ichinohe, Noriaki Kasai and Takanobu Okabe to the four-man Japanese team for Monday's team event at the K-125 large hill.

A day earlier, Okabe came eighth in the large hill for the best performance among Japanese ski jumpers. Kasai was 12th, followed by Ichinohe in 25th.

In cross country, host Italy won the men's 4x10-kilometer relay while Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske of Germany held their lead from a day earlier to win the two-man bobsleigh.

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