Olympians cheered by 500,000

Kyodo

Some 500,000 people lined the streets Monday in Tokyo’s Ginza district for a parade celebrating Japan’s London 2012 Olympians, whose 38-medal haul was the country’s largest from a single Olympics.

The parade, the first one Japan has held for its Olympic athletes, was organized by the Japanese Olympic Committee to foster momentum for bringing the 2020 Summer Games to Tokyo, according to JOC President Tsunekazu Takeda.

All seven gold medalists, including three-time champion wrestler Saori Yoshida and individual all-around gymnastics champion Kohei Uchimura, took part in the event. The silver medal-winning women’s soccer team was also there to parade for about 1 km as the athletes proceeded down Chuo Dori.

Homare Sawa, the 33-year-old star of the team that was dubbed Nadeshiko for the name of a flower, told reporters: “I was moved to see so many people rooting for us. The Games was a fantastic event.”

Uchimura, 23, said: “I was overwhelmed. My life as a gymnast will continue, so I want people to support me until I quit.”

The street was packed with fans who cheered the athletes as they rode by in convertibles and on busses.

Momoka Usui, 11, who came to view the parade with her father, said: “Mr. Uchimura’s winning gold was cool. I was so happy to see them, though taking photos was the best I could do here.”

Kazuko Amano, a 44-year-old nurse who waited at the front of the line for three hours before the parade, said: “The athletes even looked divine with their shining gold medals. They made me feel like I have to work hard.”

Japan won seven gold medals, 14 silvers and 17 bronzes at the London Olympics, surpassing the 37-medal haul it took home from the 2004 Athens Games.