APTOPIX Japan Rugby WCup Japan Ireland Japan’s players celebrate after beating Ireland during their Rugby World Cup Pool A game at Shizuoka Stadium in Shizuoka, Japan, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

The taxi driver couldn’t help it. He started talking about Japan’s incredible upset over Ireland in rugby on Saturday. Then he talked about the Japan women’s volleyball team come back win over Serbia a day before that. And how about those Japanese boys in Doha at the World Track and Field Championships? He said that if he could, he would be ditching the taxi and watching sports all day and all night.

Something’s in the air in Japan.

The 2-month 2019 Rugby World Cup taking place in Japan is a huge hit – stadiums are packed with fans from all over the world. And Japan, which entered the tournament ranked ninth in the world, pulled off an incredible upset of second-ranked Ireland, which set the country on fire. As The Guardian put it:

Japan have done it again, this time against the team ranked No 1 in the world two weeks ago. The World Cup hosts came from nine points down to win after playing with pace, skill and fervour that the humidity and time could not dim. Such was the thunderous roar when the final whistle sounded it would have caused the nearby Mount Fuji to wobble.

Over the weekend, Japan watched the Japanese women’s volleyball team win the last three games of an 11-game FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup. They had fallen into a funk and ran their record to 3 – 5, losing to regional rivals China and South Korea, but defeated Serbia, Argentina and the Netherlands in the final three days to take fifth place in the tournament.

Like the rugby matches, all games were on national television, and the volleyball arena in Osaka was packed with enthusiastic, cheering fans.

In the late evenings and mornings, Japanese track and field fans watched Japanese sprinters and long jumpers at the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Fans watched rising stars Yuki Koike, Abdul Hakim Sani Brown and Yoshihide Kiryu compete for 100-meter glory. After Japan’s incredible silver-medal feat in the 4×100 relay sprint at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Japan’s men have raised their games and hope to equal their prospects in 2020.

Unfortunately, Japan’s sprinters were all eliminated in the semi-finals. But that did not dampen the mood of a nation electrified by the accomplishments of their national teams over the weekend.

Japan’s rugby team showed that on your home turf, anything’s possible. Japan’s volleyball team showed that on their home court, they can be as dangerous as any other team – in fact they took number 2 USA to five sets last week.

Japan’s athletes are competing at the highest levels. They look to smash their record of 16 gold medals at an Olympics at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

There’s something in the air. And to the Japanese, it’s a tailwind, and it’s just beginning to build.

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The 10,000 meter race is a grueling race. At the IAAF World Track and Field Championship in Beijing, on August 24, American Molly Huddle would see Vivian Cheruiyot and Gelete Burka ahead of her as they crossed the finish line. Exhausted but elated to be crossing the line in third, Huddle raised her hands in triumph.

And in that split second before the line, fellow American and teammate, Emily Infeld passed Huddle to win the bronze.

There are no words really that can console the Mary Huddle’s of the world…except that you are human, and you are not alone.

Here is a great piece from NPR that highlights some of the more painful examples of premature celebration.

money1In 1964, there were rumors of athletes getting cash for wearing a certain company’s shoes. And the athletes from the US would also express disbelief at the financial support the athletes from the USSR received. But on the whole, only amateurs were allowed at the Olympic Games.

At the IAAF World Championships, now taking place in Beijing, tens of thousands of dollars are at stake. According to this article from the blog, Around the Rings, gold medalists take home $60,000, while those for silver and bronze receive payments of $30,000 and $20,000 respectively. An athlete who finishes as low as eighth picks up $4,000 for his or her efforts.

There are also financial rewards for team competitors.

Nick SymmondsSeems like a decent chunk of change to run around on a track. But only a handful of world-class athletes make the big bucks. Nick Symmonds won’t even be in Beijing as he is protesting the demands of the USA Track and Field organization that requires him, he feels to put