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kiwisimon

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Oh and Keirin is full PEDs. Always has been, which is largely why no/ very few pros ever race in the Olympics.
 

andywood

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Six-time consecutive winner of the Norikura Hill Climb while in his 50s! Great story, indeed!
This poses a perennial question for me, as an Aussie. There is a healthy number of Aussies in the pro peloton and we have a strong track record in cycling, particularly on the track, but also on the road. Having said that, my experience suggest the cycling culture is stronger in Japan, which has had some success globally on the track, Koichi Nakano soon comes to mind, but I reckon Japan has under-achieved on the road despite the strong culture and the physical attributes that seem to make Japanese more suited to cycling success than they actually have been. Am I right? Any theories why? Cynically, I'm inclined to believe that part of the problem at least is the generally strong aversion among Japanese to dope, but I am sure it's not so simple. Perhaps a lack of formal club racing? I don't know. I'd be interested to know what people think.
Actually, Murayama san was winning like that in his 40s and eventually began to fade in his 50s.

I remember training with him for Norikura years ago.

"How many times is Norikura for you?
"What to win it?"
"Errrr, yeah!?"
"7"
"How many times to race it?"
"9?"

He used to do 100km every morning before work. 4 till 7. Up and down the coast with a 600m climb over the steep side of Mt. Yahiko in the middle. His bus came at 7:30 so there was little room for error!

He could have been a pro for sure. A freak of nature. But he didn't start cycling till 35.

For others, the Keirin riders are on such good cash that there is no need to go to Europe or even the Olympics.

Nakano was the exception. Driven by 10 world titles.

I beat him in a race once though!

IMG_20200709_220704.jpg

Yahiko HC 2009. I think he was fixed gear!

As for road racers. They are still having to pave their own way if they want to make it. Much like the Brits and the Aussies in the 80s.

Beppu and Arashiro both did it that way.

For doping, Beppu has always rode on Armstrong teams, so make of that what you will.

Even now, Japan's female champion is trying to make grounds on her own.

If Japan wants to make a big impression on the world stage, it probably needs a home start up like Sky in the UK or Orica in Aus.

Andy
 

Kangaeroo

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Actually, Murayama san ...didn't start cycling till 35.
Seems to be common here. And everywhere, I guess. Cycling is not a cheap sport in the way, say, football can be, so I guess that may have some effect.

For others, the Keirin riders are on such good cash that there is no need to go to Europe or even the Olympics.
That makes sense, too.

Nakano was the exception. Driven by 10 world titles.
I will give Nakano one more thing. His Art Nature job seems to have held up very well indeed!

Beppu and Arashiro (and Yonamine, I guess) are still having to pave their own way if they want to make it.
They are good,but not world-class. Maybe Yonamine is not far away. That's what astounds me. Japan is a global sporting power. And apart from Nakano has never really produced a cyclist the way it has produced superstars in so many sports, which kind of astounds me.

If Japan wants to make a big impression on the world stage, it probably needs a home start up like Sky in the UK or Orica in Aus.
This seems to be the key. And it doesn't look likely to happen anytime soon now. To be honest, much as I would dearly love to be seeing a Japanese team blazing a trail on the world stage, I have to admit I would really just love to have a world stage back again.

Thanks for an awesome post, Andy! Gave me lots of thoughts and pondering on the morning constitutional.
 
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kiwisimon

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For others, the Keirin riders are on such good cash that there is no need to go to Europe or even the Olympics.
Nakano was the exception. Driven by 10 world titles.
Andy
That money argument has been put out for ages.

It didn't stop Michael Jordon, Roger Federer, Hidetoshi Nakata and Daisuke Honda, all global superstars worth multiple times more, managing to turn out and represent their countries. Naomi Osaka the richest sportswoman in the world will represent her country as well at the next Olympics.

Odd that so many pro Japanese athletes from just one sport would not want to represent their nation.
 

andywood

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That money argument has been put out for ages.

It didn't stop Michael Jordon, Roger Federer, Hidetoshi Nakata and Daisuke Honda, all global superstars worth multiple times more, managing to turn out and represent their countries. Naomi Osaka the richest sportswoman in the world will represent her country as well at the next Olympics.

Odd that so many pro Japanese athletes from just one sport would not want to represent their nation.
Yeah maybe not as black and white as that.

Nice article below.

Andy

 

Kangaeroo

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It didn't stop Michael Jordon, Roger Federer, Hidetoshi Nakata and Daisuke Honda, all global superstars worth multiple times more, managing to turn out and represent their countries. Naomi Osaka the richest sportswoman in the world will represent her country as well at the next Olympics.
Odd that so many pro Japanese athletes from just one sport would not want to represent their nation.
I don't think the cyclists have a problem representing Japan. It's more a matter of why there is not a world-class cyclist from Japan despite the cycling culture, physical attributes for the sport at professional level and opportunities.
Nakata, Honda and Osaka are examples of how Japan produces world-class athletes that makes me wonder why there hasn't been a cyclist in their ranks.
 

OreoCookie

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For others, the Keirin riders are on such good cash that there is no need to go to Europe or even the Olympics.
I don't know whether this is a convincing explanation. Some pro riders do make very good money, and arguably the stage races like the TdF or the Giro have the biggest prestige in the world of road cycling. Plus, I do know former pros or people who hope to become a pro and have spent time in Europe. (One of the locals, a young guy in his early 20s who studies engineering came back from training camps in France last year.)

I can't say for certain, but I feel that Japans insulated nature is a contributing factor. Few Japanese want to spend time abroad, and this limits their reach. In academia it is the same thing. I know really singularly brilliant Japanese researchers who — if they were living in another country — would have been sent to Princeton, Cambridge and the like by their Master or PhD advisers after graduation. And if you ask them, they actively don't want to go. Japan is losing out big time here: it isn't just for the cv, but these places attract the best minds and they would come back with contacts to the best minds in the world — as opposed to the best minds in Japan. Instead, they go for a safe job at a good Japanese university. They publish only with other Japanese. It's really a pity.

It'd be dangerous for me to project that onto the pro peleton in a one-to-one fashion, a community I am not familiar with. But I have seen it play out in many areas of Japanese life so that I can guess this may play a role, too.

(Also, needless to say not all Japanese are like that, and many of the ones that venture beyond the confines of Japan reap big rewards. E. g. one of my friends here spent many years in Europe, learning haute cuisine (and whatever the Italian equivalent is). He is an exceptionally talented cook and restauranteur — and E1-level cyclist.)

I don't think the cyclists have a problem representing Japan. It's more a matter of why there is not a world-class cyclist from Japan despite the cycling culture, physical attributes for the sport at professional level and opportunities.
That's an excellent point. The average Japanese physique is much closer to that of your archetypal cyclist — light and thin. I'm not heavy (currently 73 kg) by European standards, but I know quite a few guys who put out the same power or more than I do (and for longer), but weigh 10, 13 kg less.
 
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Karl

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I know very little about this so hesitate to venture into the discussion, but was wondering if maybe the folks outside Japan are overlooking a huge pool of talent (Japanese riders) when they search for new team members. A bit of a blinkered mindset? I believe that the same thing happened in baseball until relatively recently. Now the US siphons off Japan's top baseball talents regularly. I wonder what would happen to the racing scene in Japan if a rider was picked up by a pro team in Europe or America and made a name for himself in a major race.
 
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pedalist

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I know very little about this so hesitate to venture into the discussion, but was wondering if maybe the folks outside Japan are overlooking a huge pool of talent (Japanese riders) when they search for new team members. A bit of a blinkered mindset? I believe that the same thing happened in baseball until relatively recently. Now the US siphons off Japan's top baseball talents regularly. I wonder what would happen to the racing scene in Japan if a rider was picked up by a pro team in Europe or America and made a name for himself in a major race.
I've got very little inside knowledge about this, but seening the big number of very talented local (meaning German) cyclists at amature level (several pro riders (e.g. Roger Kluge basically living around the corner) are training with many of the local amature riders on a regular basis - and Berlin is definitly not a cycling hot spot) and the little number of pro cyclists who actually making a good living, I think those spots on pro teams are easily filled.
Also it takes a lot of sacrifies to live a pro cyclist's life with only little finacial outcome for many. In a country like Japan with a still high employment rate and solid average income while yet showing a pretty inflexible/conservative structure of typical career paths (high school - collage - work) with hardly room (willingness? desire?) for gaps or side steps it's probably less attractive taking the risk (incl. all that effort and investment
up front) in trying to become a pro cyclist with a high chance to fail.
Another reason might be that Japan just isn't that attractive of a market for the teams with the little attention cycling is getting in the general society.
All together it's probably similar to why there are hardly any German pro baseball players.
 
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OreoCookie

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Also it takes a lot of sacrifies to live a pro cyclist's life with only little finacial outcome for many. In a country like Japan with a still high employment rate and solid average income while yet showing a pretty inflexible/conservative structure of typical career paths (high school - collage - work) with hardly room (willingness? desire?) for gaps or side steps it's probably less attractive taking the risk (incl. all that effort and investment
up front) in trying to become a pro cyclist with a high chance to fail.
Given the size of the population, I'd say there should be more Japanese pros than there are. I've met plenty of Japanese who took unusual life paths motivated by pursuing a passion. In Fukuoka I have met a barista who worked in an unassuming (but really quite nice) restaurant, who spent two years living in Italy just because he wanted to learn how to make Italian-style coffee. You are right that there is more pressure to conform, but Japan has a big enough population to bring forth enough talent with a will to go against the grain.
Another reason might be that Japan just isn't that attractive of a market for the teams with the little attention cycling is getting in the general society.
All together it's probably similar to why there are hardly any German pro baseball players.
Perhaps this is a contributing factor, but I don't think it explains the relative dearth of talent. Despite the popularity of cycling in Germany, I wouldn't call cycling a mass market either. And even for niche sports, you can still have professional teams. My dad was involved in women's basketball and women's ice hockey, the latter at the very highest national level. Back then one of his “innovations” was to pull in enough sponsorship money to pay hire a few players from abroad, which took several years. (Sponsorships for women sports is usually at least one order of magnitude lower than for men.) Despite that, they had a league and professional training.
 

Karl

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@pedalist said: "Another reason might be that Japan just isn't that attractive of a market for the teams with the little attention cycling is getting in the general society."

That is probably right, but just as in baseball, you'd think a sprinkling of Japanese all-stars (if they emerged) would likely draw many Japanese to watch the sport who otherwise wouldn't. I think the tie-up with Ichiro and the Mariners was pretty lucrative and had a lot of Japanese watching the Mariners. Wouldn't the same be true for cycling?
 

pedalist

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Population is an interesting point. By that factor countries like China or India actually should be leading all "major" world sports (what ever those are). But then looking at the Chinese pro soccer, it still has a long way to go and even more does pro soccer in India.

By my personal impression only, the number of German pro cyclists and the public interest in cycling in Germany are about right (meaning balanced). And by that measure e.g. Columbian pro cyclists are actually underrepresented in pro cycling I guess (limiting factor here could be the financial funding needed for getting into competitive cycling).

I've got zero knowledge, but from my observation women's basketball or ice hockey in Germany are still heavily relying on individual passion and contribution of people who simply love that particular sport (which is a great thing) and pro leagues probably wouldn't sustain if support on an individual scale would break away. Simply there's probably not enough money that could be made with women's basketball in Germany.

I guess Ichiro (or before that even Nomo as a ground breaker) kicked in because baseball already was very popular by the general public (not only among those who are actually playing it) in Japan by then.
So, I guess it's not until more Japanese people (also kids and women and not only mamil) cheering at road races, watching hours of TdF, putting up posters of their idols on to the wall and imitating them (or at least simply enjoy cycling) in their free time that pro cycling becomes a bigger thing in Japan.

There are probably various factors which are in combination influence the popularity and with that the level of a particular sport within a society. And economical interests are most likely the strongest boost.

One thing I noticed for my aging self, the more I actually do/play a certain sport the less I'm interested in the pro level of it. It seems the young dreams of turning pro are slowly fading.
And the more I know about (or the less I'm able to ignore) the background of pro sport the more I care about the actual (grass)roots the fun of sport.

Btw, quite some of my students can name more pro (computer) gamers than soccer players. And of those who actually are able to name soccer players know more about their cars or instagram posts than about their skills on the pitch. Things are changing.
 

theBlob

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The same phenomena exists in motorcycle racing, most of the Japanese riders that go abroad to join other teams struggle with the lifestyle, language and change of culture. They Feel alienated and that struggle effects their performance and will to perform and ultimately leads to their return after a year or so.
You might add to that the cultural disinterest in illegal drug taking. Something that western culture has no problem with and you can see why Japan has trouble with creating any cyclists of note.
 

OreoCookie

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@pedalist
Great reply.
I should have made more clear that the issues you mention are probably contributing factors, I don't have a good, coherent explanation either. It's just that I don't think the reasons you (or I!) give are satisfactory explanations in my mind.
Simply there's probably not enough money that could be made with women's basketball in Germany.
There is, it's just a niche sport. (My dad actually managed a basket ball club after the reunification that had a women's and a men's team.) But I think your greater point still stands.
I guess Ichiro (or before that even Nomo as a ground breaker) kicked in because baseball already was very popular by the general public (not only among those who are actually playing it) in Japan by then.
Good point. When I was a child, Germany had quite a few excellent tennis players (Steffi Graf, Boris Becker, Michael Stich) and consequently, there was much more interest in tennis. Nowadays, I think less so. If anything, my impression is that it has become even more of a rich person's sport.
One thing I noticed for my aging self, the more I actually do/play a certain sport the less I'm interested in the pro level of it. It seems the young dreams of turning pro are slowly fading.
And the more I know about (or the less I'm able to ignore) the background of pro sport the more I care about the actual (grass)roots the fun of sport.
I can totally see myself in that. I was never someone who liked watching sports. Even though I loved cycling, watching the Tour de France held no appeal to me and was completely boring. Now I do watch some races, but usually more for the analysis part in the vain hope that my (very humble) racing may benefit from it somehow 😁 To be honest, even though I have been cycling for almost my entire life, I was completely ignorant about how professional road racing works, that it is a team sport. (I know, duh!)

Overall, I think most people in society watch too much sports and do too little themselves, and at least in some sports, the salaries have exploded to unreasonable levels.
Btw, quite some of my students can name more pro (computer) gamers than soccer players. And of those who actually are able to name soccer players know more about their cars or instagram posts than about their skills on the pitch. Things are changing.
Justin Williams from Team Legion explained this on a recent podcast: the reality of a sponsored athlete these days is quite different than a few years ago. “Worse” athletes with a great (social and otherwise) media presence can make as much as the best of them.
 

baribari

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Countries only produce large numbers of great athletes in the sports they care about.

That's why China dominates in table tennis and east African countries dominate in distance running.... It's not genetics, it's sample size.

That said, a country usually only starts caring about a sport once a pioneering athlete from their country has worldwide success in that sport.
 

speedwobble

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On the topic of whether a lucrative discipline can distort an entire sport in Japan, ekiden certainly seems to have done so for distance running.
There is a great read about it by this gentleman.
There's a stat in the book about how many of the world's top half marathon times each year are run by Japanese, all of them ekiden runners. Half marathon is not an Olympic distance, but approximates to many ekiden stages like the Hakone ones at New Year.