With four men in the top ten of the 500m in the 2018-2019 final ISU World Cup Speed Skating classification, Japan retuned as a powerhouse in international men's sprinting. Tatsuya Shinhama (JPN) finished second behind Pavel Kulizhnikov (RUS) to become the first Japanese sprinter on the final 500m ISU World Cup Speed Skating podium since Joji Kato, who also took silver in 2013. "The Japanese ladies performed very well at the Winter Olympic Games last year and they inspired us," explained Shinhama.
Good start on home soil
Ryohei Haga (JPN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (NED) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
The resurgence of the Japanese male skaters started on home soil at the first two ISU World Cup Speed Skating events of the 2018/2019 season in November. Ryohei Haga (JPN) grabbed a career first World Cup silver medal in the 500m at the first event in Obihiro, and Shinhama went on to win his first two 500m ISU World Cup Speed Skating races in Tomakomai the week thereafter.
Although Pavel Kulizhnikov (RUS) won six 500m ISU World Cup Speed Skating races in a row at Tomaszów Mazowiecki, Heerenveen, Hamar and Salt Lake City, the Japanese men were competitive all season and not just Shinhama and Haga, who finished fourth in the ISU World Cup Speed Skating ranking. Yuma Murakami (JPN) and Tsubasa Hasegawa (JPN) regularly finished among the top skaters too, with Murakami ending up fifth in the ISU World Cup Speed Skating ranking and Hasegawa tenth.
Yuma Marakami (JPN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (POL)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
Medal despite broken shoe
The World Sprint Championships in Heerenveen were Shinhama's apogee of the season. Despite a mis-stroke, a broken shoelace and a damaged shoe in his first 500m, the 22-year-old sprinter managed to end up second in the overall ranking behind the sovereign Kulizhnikov.
"It's a big surprise for me," he said. "On the first day my left shoe broke on the first straight and I finished the race with a broken shoe. Luckily enough my team managed to fix the shoe before the start of the 1000m later in the afternoon."
Tatsuya Shinhama (JPN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (NOR) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
At the ISU World Cup Speed Skating final in Salt lake City Shinhama again showed his potential in the 500m. The Japanese prodigy skated a new world record in 33.83, before Pavel Kulizhnikov recaptured the record with 33.61 in the final pairing of the same race.
Johan de Wit
Shinhama praised Japan coach Johan de Wit (NED), who led Miho and Nana Takagi and the Japanese Team Pursuit ladies to Olympic silverware in PyeonChang. The Dutchman has coached the Japanese Allround team since 2015.
Niho Takagi, Nana Takagi and Ayano Sato (JPN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (JPN) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
"He also became head coach for the Japanese sprinters after the 2018 Olympic Games and he really helped the team to move forward," Shinhama said.
De Wit himself thinks that the Japanese men have just as much potential as the ladies, not only in sprinting but in the endurance events as well. "We have the youngest team out and we already manage to win," he said after the Japanese men won the ISU World Cup Speed Skating Team Pursuit event in Tomaszów Mazowiecki in December. "The Japanese men can only get better. The country has an incredible lot of speed skating talent."
Johan de Wit and Miho Takagi (JPN) at the ISU World Allround Speed Skating Championships 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
With his silver medal at the ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championships Shinhama, he was the first Japanese man to be on the podium since Keiichiro Nagashima took silver in 2009. Eventually, Shinhama hopes to follow the footsteps of Akira Kuroiwa. The current team manager of the Japanese speed skaters is still the only Japanese man to have won the ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championships title back in 1983.
Akira Kuroiwa (JPN) at the Winter Olympic Games 2014©Getty Images