Like a lot of immature athletes, Japanese snowboarder Kazuhiro Kokubo confuses style for substance. He caused a media stir when he was prevented from appearing in the opening ceremonies for the Vancouver Olympics because he was not wearing his uniform properly. If Kokubo were competing as an individual without any support from his country, then he should have been allowed to walk in wearing whatever he wanted. But he was not. He wore Japan’s national team uniform as if he had slept on a park bench for a week. This is a common style for Japanese high school students. But as a high school girl pointed out in a street interview, his style had no meaning — he’s 21 and a university student. Contrast this with Shuan White. White kept his red curls long, but still wore the USA uniform right in the opening ceremonies. A uniform symbolizes a team and, in the Olympics, the country that you represent. If you don’t like it, skip the ceremonies, as many famous athletes do.
Then there was his unapologetic apology press conference. (Let’s be consistent here: If you don’t feel like apologizing, then don’t.) When asked if he had learned anything from the episode, he muttered “urasai”, which translates as noisy — the reporter was just making noise. His coach intervened and said that Kokubo had difficulty speaking properly. Soon afterward, Kokubo again courted the attention of the noisy news media, being photographed in a practice session wearing a black mouth piece with “samurai” in gold letters across the front.
But enough about style, let’s judge him by the substance of his performance: Face plant in the finals of the half-pipe. His bloody lip and chin graced the front page of many sports papers, making him a media star, though not a sports hero.
He returned to Japan earlier this week, wearing the uniform correctly and said he was glad to return home. He’s only 21 and so there is still a chance for him to discover some substance. He already has plenty of style.