Raw Japan

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Half-pipe dream up in smoke for Japan bad boy

February 18, 2010

Inclement weather has plagued the snowboard venue at the Olympics, but the storm clouds over Japan’s Kazuhiro Kokubo nearly prevented him from competing in Vancouver.

Ending eighth in the snowboard half-pipe finals with an apparent bloodied chin and lip,  Kokubo is also unlikely to have felt the last of a public bruising in Japan that began when some people thought he was scruffily dressed for his departure from Narita Airport and continued when he later seemed unrepentant.

OLYMPICS-SNOWBOARDING/

Kokubo, whose unusual surname translates as “mother country”, was banned from the opening ceremonies in Canada and nearly disqualified by the team for his fashion mis-statement.

But in a scene reminiscent of a student-principal meeting, he and team captain Seiko Hashimoto agreed after an apology to let the nail stick out — at least through the half-pipe event — rather than facing the hammer.

Before Kokubo finally took to his board, the 21-year-old Tokai University student with dreadlocks and nose piercings had been the topic du jour for many TV talk shows and sports programmes as a poster-child of inscrutable youth.

In a nation that broadcasts its curling live and awaits the men’s figure skating finals with baited breath, the snowboarder tempest dominated sports media until Japan’s first two medals, for speed-skating, offered a reprieve.

After the half-pipe final, national broadcaster NHK led its first news report with Kokubo’s result, disappointing the medal-hungry in the  country but certain not to be the end of the story on his return to Japan.

Photo credit: Mark Blinch/REUTERS

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