Asian Games: For Japan, this Asiad is a precursor to 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Kento Momota, Japan's newly minted badminton world champion, will carry his nation's hopes of an Asiad gold medal in the men's singles competition.
Kento Momota, Japan's newly minted badminton world champion, will carry his nation's hopes of an Asiad gold medal in the men's singles competition.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO • The Asian Games will be a chance for Japan's athletes to test their preparations ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and also give officials the opportunity to gain some valuable insight into the organisation of a multi-sport event.

The 2018 Asian Games, albeit on a smaller scale than an Olympics, have included sport climbing and karate - both sports are new inclusions for Tokyo 2020 - on their programme and Japanese organisers are keen to see how they function.

"We do think that the Asian Games will definitely be important in the run-up to Tokyo 2020," the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) said in a recent statement.

"We also think that experiencing the atmosphere will be a positive element for 2020.

"Especially for young athletes and athletes of the new additional sports for Tokyo 2020, it will be a good occasion to perform and to compete together as Team Japan."

Japan was third at the Incheon Asiad four years ago, clinching 200 medals (47 golds, 77 silvers, 76 bronzes) behind China (345) and hosts South Korea (228).

To close that gap, Japan will have some catching up to do.

The Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC) has set a target of at least 65 golds this year after winning 79 in 2014, reported the Yonhap news agency.

  • 60 

    Number of golds the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee expects Japan to win. The Koreans' own target is 65.

But the KSOC estimates that Japan could pose a threat, possibly grabbing as many as 60 golds.

Despite Japan's desire to see how its athletes are placed two years away from their own Games, the strength of the team varies on a sport-by-sport basis.

Many of Japan's top table tennis players, including 15-year-old Tomokazu Harimoto, ranked eighth in the world, and Olympic men's team silver medallist Maharu Yoshimura will not be at the Aug 18-Sept 2 Asiad.

Triple Olympic champion gymnast Kohei Uchimura is also skipping the event to concentrate on the World Championships in October.

But Japan, which is sending a 1,096-member delegation, including about 760 athletes, has named a strong swimming team led by Olympic medallists Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto, straight off the back of hosting the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo.

And after their surprising 4x100m athletics silver medal at the Rio Olympics and bronze at the World Championships last year, all eyes will be on Japan's sprinters.

The badminton team also have high hopes after winning six medals at the recent World Championships in China, with Kento Momota becoming the first Japanese man to win a singles world title.

The men's football team, meanwhile, got off to a good start in the competition, recording their second win with a 4-0 victory over Pakistan yesterday.

All four goals were scored in the first half after Yuto Iwasaki netted twice. Reo Hatate and Daizen Maeda contributed the other two, as Japan sit comfortably at the top of their group.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2018, with the headline 'For Japan, a precursor to Olympics'. Print Edition | Subscribe