Header images from the 2023-2024 AJET Photo Contest.

The opening ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics is tonight! And it likely comes as no surprise to those of us living in “snow country” that Niigata produces some amazing winter athletes. This year there will be 11 athletes representing Niigata and going for the gold.

Niigata’s Snowboarding Team

Ayumu Hirano (left) and Kaishu Hirano (right). Photo via @4kaishu

Twenty percent of Japan’s snowboarding team is from Niigata. But perhaps even more impressive than that, is the team features two pairs of siblings.

 

Photo via @deep_blue1129

 Ayumu Hirano is probably hoping that the third time really is the charm. After speculation that his participation in the Summer Olympic games may have adversely affected his snowboarding, the two-time Olympic silver medalist proved to the world that he hasn’t been slacking off when he landed the first-ever frontside triple cork 1440 (four full rotations and three off-axis flips) in competition a few months ago. 

 

This will be Ayumu’s last chance to take on rival Shaun White, as White announced recently that the Beijing Olympics will likely be his last run. However, this will be Ayumu’s first chance at competing in the Olympics with his younger brother Kaishu Hirano.

 

Photo via @4kaishu

 Four years younger than Ayumu, Kaishu Hirano took up snowboarding at the age of twelve after watching his brother medal at the Sochi Olympics. Whatever training the Hirano brothers did up in their hometown of Murakami certainly worked, as Kaishu won a silver medal of his own six years later at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games.

 

The Hirano Brothers’ Olympic Schedule:

February 9: Men’s Halfpipe Qualifying 

February 11: Men’s Halfpipe Final

 

Proving that snowboarding is indeed a family affair in Niigata, siblings Sena and Ruki Tomita will also be representing Japan in the Half-pipe. The sisters both started snowboarding at the age of three in their hometown of Myoko. 

 

photo via @sena_tomita

 

 Sena, now 22 years old, has come a long way since her first half-pipe competition back when she was a first-grade elementary school student. She placed eighth in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and has won the All Japan Championships back to back for the past two years.

 

photo via @ruki_tomita

But Sena’s 20-year-old sister, Ruki—who was hot on Sena’s tails at the All Japan Championships in 2021 (placing 3rd)—has finally overtaken her sister. Ruki won gold at the 2022 World Cup while Sena brought home the bronze.

 

No female rider has yet to bring home the gold medal for Japan in the Half-pipe. Will the sibling rivalry provide the extra push necessary for one of the Tomita sisters to slide into victory?

Sena Tomita (left) and Ruki Tomita (right). Photo via Niigata snow fan club

 

 

The Tomita Sisters’ Olympic Schedule:

February 9th: Women’s Halfpipe Qualifying

February 10th: Women’s Halfpipe Final

 

 

 

Fun Fact: The Hirano brothers both ride “goofy stance” (right foot first), while the Tomita sisters ride opposite of each other (Sena riding regular and Ruki riding goofy).

 

Niigata’s Ski Team

The seven members of Japan’s ski team from Niigata have it all—speed, endurance, agility, and accuracy. But will they be able to turn all they’ve learned on the slopes of Echigo into gold?

 

Photo via @mzawasan

Hiroyuki Miyazawa, from Tokamachi, will be competing in his second Olympic games. He competed in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, placing 13th in the team sprint with his teammate Yuichi Onda. The 30 year old will be competing in both individual and relay races in Beijing.

Hiroyuki Muyazawa’s Olympic Schedule:

February 8: Men’s Sprint Free

February 11: Men’s 15km Classical

February 13: Men’s 4x10km Relay

 

 

Miki Kodama, from Tokamachi, will be competing in her first Olympics. She has a busy schedule ahead of her with four different skiing events.

Miki Kodama’s Olympic Schedule:

February 5: Women’s Ski Athlon

February 10: Women’s 10km Classical

February 12: Women’s 4x5km Relay

February 20: Women’s 30km Mass Start Free

 

 

 

Photo via Facebook

For Tainai native Ryo Sugai, the Olympics have been a dream of his since he was a child. He said that he is just relieved they are still being held despite the ongoing pandemic. After missing out on his chance to make it to the 2018 Olympics in alpine skiing, he changed disciplines to freestyle skiing (ski cross). Last year, he became the first Japanese skier to reach the podium at the World Cups since ski cross’ inclusion in 2010. Will he be able to reach the Olympic podium as well?

 

Ryo Sugai’s Olympic Schedule:

February 18: Men’s Ski Cross Qualifying, Final

 

 

Photo via Niigata Nippo

 Kei Furuno, from Nagaoka, has participated in ski cross since he was in the fourth grade of elementary school. The 22-year-old is currently studying law at Keio University. 

 

Kei Furuno’s Olympic Schedule:

February 18: Men’s Ski Cross Qualifying, Final

 

 

 

Photo via Daily.co

 Though born in Tokyo, Anri Kawamura has been calling Niigata home since she was three years old—the same age she started skiing. The graduate of Yuzawa Gakuen was awarded the title of “Best Newcomer” by the International Ski Federation in 2020. She is looking to end Japan’s 24-year gold medal drought in Women’s Moguls and prove that she is here to stay for the long term.

 

 

Anri Kawamura’s Olympic Schedule:

February 3: Women’s Moguls Qualifying

February 6: Women’s Moguls Final 

 

 

Photo via Sports Biz

 Returning to the Olympic stage to compete against Kawamura in the Women’s Moguls is Junko Hoshino from Nagaoka. Hoshino finished 15th in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, just two places away from qualifying for the medal round.

Junko Hoshino’s Olympic Schedule:

February 3: Women’s Moguls Qualifying

February 6: Women’s Moguls Final

 

 

 Yurie Tanaka is from Minami Uonuma. At 33 years old, Tanaka is the oldest athlete from Niigata in this year’s Olympics. She is a member of Japan’s Self Defense Force’s Physical Training School and an Olympic veteran (PyeongChang 2018). 

Yurie Tanaka’s Olympic Schedule:

February 7th: 15km

February 11th: Sprint

February 13th: Pursuit

February 16th: 4x6km Relay

 

You can watch Japanese Olympic coverage at gorin.com or on five different television networks. The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics run from February 4th to February 20th.

 

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