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Winter Olympics closes with Japan achieving record medal tally of 13

Japan's bronze-medal winning women's curling team jumps onto the podium during the ceremony in Gangneung, South Korea, on Feb. 25, 2018. (Mainchi)
Japanese athletes enter Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium for the 2018 Winter Olympics closing ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 25, 2018. (Mainichi)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- After 17 days of thrilling competition, the 2018 Winter Olympics finished with a grand closing ceremony on Feb. 25, marking a record-best Winter Games for Japan.

The Japanese athletes entered Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium wearing their resplendent red coats, navy-blue beanies, and scarves with navy and white stripes, as they waved toward the crowd.

In total, Japan earned 13 medals at Pyeongchang (four gold, five silver and four bronze), surpassing the country's previous Winter Olympic record of 10 medals (five gold, one silver and four bronze), achieved on home soil at the Nagano Olympics in 1998. In addition, 43 Japanese athletes finished within eighth place in their respective sports, which is also a record.

"We demonstrated that we are the strongest ever Team Japan," the country's delegation chief Yasuo Saito said proudly at a press conference on Feb. 25.

In events on the ice, Japan gained nine medals -- far more than the one medal that the country clinched at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. Notable this time was Japan's performance in speed skating events, in which the nation earned six medals, including three golds.

Japan's speed skating success was partly due to the creation of a national team after Sochi 2014 that transcended sponsor allegiances, and the invitation in May 2015 of coaches from the Netherlands, a speed skating powerhouse.

Unlike preparations for the Summer Olympics, for which the majority of training gravitates toward the Ajinomoto National Training Center in Tokyo, the training sites for ice-based events are somewhat scattered.

"Creating an environment where winter-event athletes can focus on training will be a key driving force," says the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC)'s Yasuhiro Yamashita, who oversees athlete development and wants further improvements.

One notable trend at Pyeongchang was that eight of Japan's 13 medals were earned by women, and that more than half of female athletes who competed in the games finished among the top eighth athletes in their events. From Japan's point of view, the country's "powerful women" sparkled.

However, with regard to snow-based events, the number of Japanese medals dropped to four, which is three less than at Sochi. One of the major themes for future team Japan in snow events is finding and training up-and-coming Nordic skiers capable of carrying on the baton from their seniors.

According to the JOC, 130 Japanese representatives including 77 athletes took part in the closing ceremony on Feb. 25. Among the attendees were gold-medal winning figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu, gold-medalist and speed skater Nao Kodaira, speed-skating team pursuit gold medalists and sisters Nana and Miho Takagi, and the bronze-medal winning women's curling team.

Notably, the number of Japanese athletes at the closing ceremony was much higher than the 37 athletes at the opening ceremony -- which was avoided by some due to cold temperatures and a desire to stay in top physical condition.

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