With a projected 15 medals a possible outcome for Japan at the upcoming Winter Olympics, Netherlands-based sports statistics experts Gracenote on Wednesday predicted a record-setting performance in Pyeongchang, with figure skating star Yuzuru Hanyu the headliner.
Released with less than a month to go until the games opening ceremony, Gracenote's Virtual Medal Table predicts Japan will leave South Korea with a record medal haul, five more than its previous best recorded at the 1998 Nagano Games, and a huge improvement from the most recent Olympics in Sochi.
"The projections are based purely on results, so this is just a reflection of the improvement made by Japanese competitors since Sochi. Performances at world championships and world cups have been impressive enough from Japan to justify this leap," said Simon Gleave, Gracenote's head of analysis.
A welcome forecast for Hanyu fans, the long-time Olympic watchers penciled Japan's glamour boy in as the men's figure skating gold medalist, despite his currently uncertain health status.
"Our projections only look at results and we don't include an adjustment for injury as those subjective assessments tend to make the accuracy of our forecasts lower," said Gleave. "Having said that, we will have to see if Hanyu is back to his best in Pyeongchang. If not, he will struggle to meet our expectations."
Japan will also take the figure skating team gold medal, Gleave says, with the country's ice armada of Shoma Uno and Satoko Miyahara and others providing backup to Hanyu. Uno is also predicted to take the men's bronze, and Miyahara the women's silver.
The other gold medals going Japan's way will come from speed skating, Gracenote says, with Japanese sprint queen Nao Kodaira leading the charge.
The forecast for the 500-meter event is that Kodaira will dominate her competition, as she has done all season, and the team pursuit should be Japan's. But it is over 1,000 meters that Kodaira could add to her medal collection, perhaps even gold.
"It is difficult to comment on specific cases, but the 1,000 currently looks very close between (U.S. skater) Heather Bergsma and Kodaira, and it would be no surprise to see the Japanese skater claim gold," said Gleave.
Japan's freestyle skiing and snowboard squads should add to the medal total, as might always-in-contention women's ski jumping star Sara Takanashi and her teammate Yuki Ito.
Nordic combined racer Akito Watabe should convert his recent form into a podium, according to Gleave.
"Watabe was second at last year's world championships which has a lot of weight in our model. However, he also won three world cup events in 2017, including the event in Ruka, Finland, two months ago," he said.
"The difference between Watabe and our projected bronze medalist Eric Frenzel is wafer-thin, though. These two and gold medal favorite Johannes Rydzek look ahead of the rest of the field at the moment."