Olympics: Japan targets 20 golds for 2020

Kohei Uchimura led the Japanese men's gymnastics team to the gold for the first since the 2004 Athens Games. For the 2020 Games, Japan is looking at winning medals beyond its traditional strengths such as gymnastics.
Kohei Uchimura led the Japanese men's gymnastics team to the gold for the first since the 2004 Athens Games. For the 2020 Games, Japan is looking at winning medals beyond its traditional strengths such as gymnastics.ST PHOTO: REUTERS

Buoyed by its best medal harvest, next host intends to spend to earn medals in all sports

RIO DE JANEIRO • The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) is so happy with its athletes' overall performance at the Rio Olympics that it has given them a target of finishing in the top three with a minimum of 20 golds on home turf in four years.

Japan won a total of 41 medals at Rio 2016, which eclipsed its previous best of 38 set four years ago at the London Games.

The Asian powerhouse claimed 12 golds - its second-best harvest after the 16 it took from Athens in 2004 - eight silvers and 21 bronzes, and finished sixth in the overall medal table.

While casting a satisfied eye over the country's biggest medal haul, the JOC also warned that money must be invested so the athletes can perform even better at Tokyo 2020, reported The Japan Times.

"Of course there are things that we could have done better, but they relate to budget," said Japan's Rio chef de mission Seiko Hashimoto, who set her country's athletes a minimum target of winning a medal in each of the 33 sports at the Tokyo Olympics.

"I don't mean that money solves everything, but in terms of strengthening our training, for every medal, we need a budget.

INVESTMENT WANTED

We need to communicate this to the wider public to make sure we secure the necessary budget to make the 2020 Games a real success.

SEIKO HASHIMOTO, Japan chef de mission for the Rio Games, urging the country to be prepared to spend to attain medals.


NEED TO BREAK NEW GROUND

If we just depend on the traditional areas, we will not be able to clear the hurdle for 2020. There were many medals won this time in sports where we were not so strong.

TSUNEKAZU TAKEDA, Japan Olympic Committee chief, on the need to improve its medal chances in non-traditional sports.

"There were problems with resources and the athletes had to give 200 per cent to make up the gap.

"We need to really convey why the Olympics and sports are so important. We need to communicate this to the wider public to make sure we secure the necessary budget to make the 2020 Games a real success."

Japan enjoyed its biggest success at Rio in its traditional stronghold of judo, taking 12 medals overall, including three golds.

But there was also a first canoe slalom medal as Takuya Haneda took bronze, and a first badminton gold for doubles pair Ayaka Takahashi and Mizuki Matsutomo.

The men's 4x100m relay team also sprang a surprise by taking silver, with the runners making up for their relative lack of speed with smooth baton exchanges.

The JOC expects Japan to break more new ground in 2020.

"One of the challenges we had set was to win medals in new sports," said Hashimoto, a seven-time Olympic speed skater and cyclist who won 1,500m bronze at the 1992 Albertville Winter Games.

"We have been able to prove that we can win medals even in unlikely events, and this provides inspiration for young athletes in particular. We have great hope for the future."

JOC chief Tsunekazu Takeda said: "If we just depend on the traditional areas, we will not be able to clear the hurdle for 2020. There were many medals won this time in sports where we were not so strong."

The JOC also praised the performance of Japan's young athletes, with wrestlers Sara Dosho, Eri Tosaka and Risako Kawai - all in their early 20s - winning golds and 15-year-old Mima Ito helping the country claim a team bronze in women's table tennis.

  • Land of the rising sons and daughters


    ERI TOSAKA

    Wrestling (Women): Freestyle 48kg


    KAORI ICHO

    Wrestling (W): Freestyle 58kg


    RISAKO KAWAI

    Wrestling (W): Freestyle 63kg


    SARA DOSHO

    Wrestling (W): Freestyle 69kg


    SHOHEI ONO

    Judo (Men): 73kg


    MASHU BAKER

    Judo (M): 90kg


    HARUKA TACHIMOTO

    Judo (W): 70kg


    MISAKI MATSUTOMO/ AYAKA TAKAHASHI

    Badminton: Women's doubles


    KOSUKE HAGINO

    Swimming (M): 400m IM


    RIE KANETO

    Swimming (W): 200m breast


    KOHEI UCHIMURA

    Gymnastics (M): Individual all-around

    MEN'S TEAM

    Gymnastics: Team all-around


    RIO 2016

    TOTAL GOLDS 12

    WRESTLING 4

    JUDO 3

    GYMNASTICS 2

    SWIMMING 2

    BADMINTON 1

    LONDON 2012

    TOTAL GOLDS 7

    WRESTLING 4

    JUDO 1

    GYMNASTICS 1

    BOXING 1

"Young athletes have performed well," said deputy chef de mission Yuji Takada, a bronze medal-winning wrestler at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

"These are athletes that young people look up to, and I hope they take inspiration from their performance and go on to do well at the Tokyo Olympics."

Japan's male athletes outperformed their female counterparts in Rio, winning 23 medals to 18, but the women claimed more golds, with seven compared to the men's five.

This has prompted JOC officials to plan better training programmes for its promising women athletes, noted the Wall Street Journal.

"The number of female athletes is increasing and their performance has improved a lot," said Hashimoto, Japan's first female chef de mission at the Summer Games. "I'm very happy with that.

"Japan as a nation is now taking seriously how sports for women ought to be. Up until now, there were no specific measures being taken for women in sport."

Already, the country's coaches are fashioning techniques which are bringing them rewards.

Japan's stunning silver in the men's 4x100m relay, run in an Asian record time of 37.60sec, was achieved without the benefit of runners who can cover each section in under 10 seconds.

Coach Shunji Karube said proudly: "Our technique brought us the medal. I believe our baton passing is the best in the world."

He came up with the idea of a reformed underhand baton pass - with their elbow raised, not at waist height. This reduces the distance each athlete must run, and retains the advantage of easy acceleration.

The team held training camps to perfect their technique. Second runner Shota Iizuka said: "We feel we've gained some respect from other countries with good records."

THE JAPAN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'Japan targets 20 golds for 2020'. Print Edition | Subscribe