Saturday, February 13, 2010

M.IMAI VICE - The sad story of one Olympic snowboarder’s decent into prostitution

 
Notorious Snowboarders #2: Melo “Mellow“ Imai

In the next few days as the Vancouver Olympics kicks off a select few snowboarders from around the world will compete for Olympic glory. For a few weeks these previously relatively unknown athletes will be thrust into the spotlight and carry the hopes of their nations on their shoulders. A very small number will succeed and become household names, but most will not, and after the Olympics they will quietly go back to relative obscurity. This is the tale of one snowboarder who was a Japanese medal hope in the 2006 Olympics before a crash and the results of a difficult upbringing took her, not only back to obscurity, but into infamy...

Melo Imai, (sometimes spelt Mero Imai, or if you like 今井メロ), was a Japanese snowboarder who appeared in halfpipe at the 2006 Torino Olympics.

Imai was first introduced to snowboarding at the age of 7 on a trip to Canada and following her return to Japan she started to train under the influence of her father Takasha Narita. Narita’s harsh tutelage quickly developed Imai’s skills so that by the age of 12 she had started competing professionally and by 14 she was the world junior halfpipe champion. 11 years after first picking up a snowboard, Narita’s his hard training regime resulted in both Imai and her brother Domu Narita reaching the Olympics, but it also drove the family apart. By the time Imai reached Torino both her and her brother had cut contact with their father and Imai had taken her mother’s maiden name to further disassociate herself from him. ''My family is a changed family,'' Imai said in an interview with the New York Times. ''It's me, my mother and my two brothers.''

Melo Imai was a good snowboarder and she had an outside chance of winning a medal. A run of good form culminated just a few months earlier when she won an Olympic qualifying half-pipe event in Saas-Fee ahead of the likes of Lindsey Jacobellis.

The Japanese press and public put their hopes and ambitions on Imai. In the months leading up to the competition she picked up a lot of publicity and large sponsorship deals. The whole country was behind her and they even seemed quite happy to listen to her awful rap song ‘Yuma’. 

But when it came to the Olympics things quickly unraveled for Imai. 

She crashed early on in her first qualifying run and subsequently she had to withdraw due to her injuries. Within a few days the Japanese public’s attention had moved on. Imai was a disappointment and she was quickly forgotten about. She was only remembered for a while by a few Japanese snowboarders who used the colloquialism, 'melo shita!' (I pulled a 'Melo') whenever they crashed.

In her post Olympic obscurity, Imai’s life fell apart. Without her father’s imposed ambitions and following the ignominy of her Olympic results she lost her way and soon stopped snowboarding altogether. She remained out of site for just one year before she suddenly had her name splashed across the Japanese press for very different reasons - she had been caught working as a call girl.
Danny Kass was similarly exposed by a Whitelines photographer.

In June 2007 the Japanese weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun carried a story alleging that Melo Imai was now working part-time as a prostitute for a delivery health call girl service. Running under the headline "Beautiful M.I. from the Turin Winter Olympic Team now turning tricks part time," the article featured several photos of a young woman clad in lingerie performing sexual services in an Osaka hotel. 

Shukan Bunshun probed into the story, finding that the woman pictured is working under the name "Koyuki." Further investigation among other sex workers from the same establishment found at least one who was willing to say "Koyuki" was actually Mellow Imai. "Well, I've got to tell you now. Only a few of the girls actually know Koyuki is in fact Mellow Imai. I clearly heard her saying it once. I saw her write her real name down for one of the other girls once," an Osaka sex worker told Shukan Bunshun. "She used to go around saying that she'd been in the Olympics. And I saw her show her driver's license to one of the other girls once. The girl was really surprised and said Mellow wasn't lying." Source

Since those revelations the only thing i can find out about Melo Imai is that she has branched out to produce a nude photobook and in 2008 a ‘private video’...

When I first found out that Melo Imai had become a call-girl it seemed a strange but interesting story, but the more I found out about her circumstances it became clear that behind the headlines was a sad tale. Imai had a very difficult upbringing that left her unprepared and exposed when she crashed at what was supposed to be the defining moment of her life. The combination of situation and events has really damaged the life of a talented snowboarder and I can only hope she finds a way to turn things around in the future.

Perhaps if she was Canadian things would have turned out differently. They are a whole lot more supportive of this type of transgression if this headline by Reuters is to be believed...

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