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Imagine a better Olympics for Japan

by Michael Hoffman

Special To The Japan Times

Sekai wa itsuka hitotsu ni naru” (「世界はいつかひとつになる」) — that’s what “And the world will be as one,” from John Lennon’s “Imagine,” sounds like in Japanese, at least according to the Asahi Shimbun. The matter arises in connection with the dai sanjukkai orinpikku kyogitaikai (第三十回オリンピック競技大会, 30th Olympiad), during whose heikaishiki (閉会式, closing ceremony) “Imagine” was featured. Is the world one? Imagine — all 204 member countries and regions of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) participated. The politically motivated boycotts of yesteryear were distant memories, if not forgotten altogether. From the athletes there was some tweeted jinshu sabetsu (人種差別, racism) which immediately went viral and earned their perpetrators prompt expulsion. So much for that.

Imagine spending $14.5 billion on an extravaganza that addresses, let alone solves, none of the world’s myriad festering problems, from rising temperatures to falling prosperity, from rising international tensions (over islands, over nukes) to failing mechanisms of international cooperation (the United Nations Security Council’s impotence over Syria, for instance). Imagine it seeming worth it. London satisfied the world it was. IOC President Jacques Rogge put it this way: “In many ways London brought the Olympics back to life” (“Rondon wa ōku no imi de gorin wo yomigaeraseta” 「ロンドンは多くの意味で五輪を蘇えらせた」). If by that he meant the Olympic spirit, then someday the world may indeed be as one, unlikely though the prospect may seem at present and most of the time.

So many milestones — where to begin? Some 10,000 senshutachi (選手たち, athletes) from 204 countries and regions competed in 302 shumoku (種目, events). Imagine the very first Olympic competitors in 776 BC in Olympia, Hellas (today’s Greece) trying to imagine that. Two hundred ninety-three of the athletes in London were Japanese, and they won 38 medals — seven gold (kin nana ko, 金七個), 14 silver (gin jūyon ko, 銀十四個) and 17 bronze (dō jyūnana ko, 銅十七個) — making them medaru sōsū wa sekai rokui (メダル総数は世界六位, sixth place in terms of the total number of medals) and kin medaru sū wa sekai jūi (金メダル数は世界十位, 10th place in terms of the number of gold medals). Japan’s medal haul was kako saita (過去最多, the most ever), beating by one its previous high of 37 at Athens in 2004.

Gymnast Kohei Uchimura (one gold, two silvers) said, “Taisō wo suru tame ni umarete kita (「体操をするために生まれてきた」, “I was born for gymnastics”). It’s far from the most grandiose self-appraisal to come out of the Games (Jamaican runner Usain Bolt’s “I am a living legend” tops it by meters), and anyway, if you’ve got the stuff why not strut it? Uchimura also reportedly said, “Kamisama to ka, shinjite inai desu. Omamori wo motta koto mo nai. Shinjirareru no wa renshū dake deshō (「神様とか、信じていないです。お守りを持ったこともない。信じられるのは練習だけでしょう」, “I don’t believe in God. I never had lucky charms. All I believe in is practice”).

Judo (柔道), Japan’s homegrown sport-art, first attained Olympic status at the Tokyo Games in 1964. In London, disappointment was offset by triumph. The disappointment was male, the triumph female. For the first time the men’s team failed to win gold. Fortunately, along came Kaori Matsumoto, whose gold medal was Japan’s first of the London Games and of whom one authority said, “Gijutsu jitai wa hetakuso desu kedo, are hodo tōsōshin wo mukidashi ni shite semeru jūdō wo suru senshu wa, sekaijū sagashite mo hoka ni inai desu ne” (「技術自体は下手くそですけど、あれほど闘争心を剥き出しにして攻める柔道をする選手は世界中探しても他にいないですね」, “Her technique is a bit clumsy but you can search the world, you won’t find another judoist who attacks displaying her fighting spirit”).

Not all triumphs won medals. Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani’s didn’t. She’s a 16-year-old judoist from Saudi Arabia, which along with Qatar and Brunei sent its first female athletes ever to the Olympics. Wearing a bathing cap instead of a hijab, she ikkaisen de yabureta (一回戦で敗れた, was defeated in the first round) but, pride undimmed, said, “I hope this will raise the curtain on a new era” (“Kore ga arata na jidai no makuake ni natte hoshii” 「これが新たな時代の幕開けになってほしい」).

Not everyone was euphoric. As the Asahi Shimbun reported, Rondon ni wa gorin wo kangei shinai hito ga ōkatta (ロンドンには五輪を歓迎しない人が多かった, There were many in London who did not welcome the Olympics). Who can blame them? There was tero no kyōi (テロの脅威, the threat of terrorism) and there was the virtual certainty of kōtsū ya tsūshinmō no daikonran (交通や通信網の大混乱, traffic and communication network chaos). Imagine — the worst didn’t come to pass, and some of the best did.