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Japan defeats US to win baseball gold for first time

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The Japanese celebrate the victory over the United States in the baseball tournament on August 7, 2021 in Tokyo

In a country where the sport is especially popular, the Japanese won gold in baseball by beating the United States in the final. Absent since the Olympics in Beijing, this discipline has made a comeback in competition, along with softball, reserved for women.

Japanese baseball fans have been waiting for this title for so long. For the first time, the Japanese team won the Olympic tournament on Saturday, August 7, beating the Americans 2-0.

After beating their South Korean rivals in the semifinals, the Japanese passed the United States to claim the title in a country where the sport is a true religion.

More than a century after the sport was introduced by an English teacher from the United States, Japan made baseball its own. Signs of this popularity, it was reintroduced into the Games program after it had been withdrawn since two Olympics. In the land of the sunrise, “all children play baseball,” Itaru Kobayashi, a former Lotte Marines player from Chiba, a suburb of Tokyo who became a teacher at Oberlin University in the Japanese capital, told AFP. The sport “was invented in the United States, but we fell in love with it,” he adds.

According to him, this sport is especially suitable in Japan, because it is “like a ritual” and that it is characterized by “uniformity and obedience to orders”: “Work as a team, be united by the team. Love it.”

The sport that inspired Murakami

Even Japan’s most famous author fails to emphasize his love of the sport. In an interview with the Telegraph, Haruki Murakami had said that baseball was the starting point for his calling. When he watched a Japanese league game in 1978, he had a revelation: “I still remember the exact feeling. It seemed like something was floating in the sky, and I had literally grabbed it. My hands. I did not know why. was so lucky to fall into my hands. (…) All I can say is that my life was radically and definitely changed in that moment. “As a result of this gesture, Murakami wrote his first novel,” Listen to the Song of the Wind “, which won the Gunzo Prize in 1979.

Baseball was first introduced as a school sport in 1872 by Tokyo teacher Horace Wilson, but became popular thanks to a game in which a high school team from the capital beat a group of foreigners in 1896.

The victory made headlines in Japan and ignited a wave of passion for the sport and other encounters against American teams. “These matches had symbolic significance because the Japanese were behind (the Americans, ed. Note) in many aspects, such as trade and industry,” said Robert Whiting, a baseball expert who lived in Japan for decades. “The message was, ‘If we can beat the Americans in their own game, we can certainly take over them in other areas,'” he said.

A professional league developed in the 1930s, but it was after World War II (when Japan was defeated by the United States) that baseball became the national pastime, especially amateur baseball was cultivated for. “Purity” because it is not driven by money. This flame is still burning, as the crowd of fans and cheering crowd gathered recently for a match “Tokyo 6”, a league of six of the main universities in the capital.

Tensions with South Korea

As Le Monde explains, rivalry with the United States has now given way to that of South Korea, which won gold in Beijing. “It must be said that baseball is the number one sport in both countries. And as a result, it crystallizes, even more than judo, football or volleyball (…) the persistent tensions between two neighbors whose relationships, delicate on memorial matters, are at its lowest since the 2017 election of South Korean President Moon Jae-in “, describes journalist Philippe Mesmer.

These tensions surround the question of compensation to Koreans who were forced to work for Japanese industry during the war and “comfort women” forced to prostitute themselves for the Japanese army. Tensions also arose after “the inclusion of the Liancourt rocks, a group of islets called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, on the map shows the route to the Olympic flame,” said Le Monde. These islands are occupied by Korea, but claimed by Japan.

In this tense context, the South Korean delegation stood out on its arrival in Tokyo, by hanging banners on the balconies of the apartments it occupies in the Olympic Village, citing a 16th-century war between the two countries. Following the protests from Japan, the International Olympic Committee declared that these banners violated the Olympic Charter.

In exchange for the withdrawal, it is said that the South Koreans have received a promise that the Japanese flag “of the rising sun”, which shows a red circle with 16 rays and is perceived by some as a symbol of the occupation of the peninsula, would not be burned during the Olympics .

Although the relationship is not in good shape, the two countries met on Wednesday in the semifinals. Japan won the summit 5-2, before finally taking gold three days later against the United States. The Dominican Republic beat South Korea 10-6 in the small final to win bronze.

Japan had so far won three Olympic medals in baseball, but had never been crowned. The Japanese players also won the softball tournament, the women’s version of baseball, on Tuesday, July 27, and also beat the Americans in the final (2-0).

It was the last baseball tournament at the Summer Olympics before the Los Angeles Games, in 2028. This sport will not be present at the Olympics in Paris.

Author: France 24 – France 24

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