Olympians reflect on success in Vancouver

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After the challenging 17-day rigors of the Vancouver Winter Games concluded, the Japanese Olympic team returned home, receiving warm but enthusiastic greetings from fans at Narita International Airport on Tuesday afternoon.

The 112-member Japanese team headed immediately to a hotel in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward, and the seven medalists in five events along with delegation chief Seiko Hashimoto spoke at the podium.

“Japan earned three silver and two bronze medals, which are four more than the last (Winter) Games in Turin,” Hashimoto said. “We were able to achieve that with enormous support from a lot of people.”

In the 2006 Olympics, Japan received only one medal: Shizuka Arakawa’s gold in women’s figure skating.

In Vancouver, Keiichiro Nagashima (men’s 500 meters in speedskating), Mao Asada (women’s figure skating) and the women’s speedskating pursuit team of Nao Kodaira, Maki Tabata and Masako Hozumi gained silver medals, while Daisuke Takahashi (men’s figure skating) and Joji Kato (men’s 500 in speedskating) earned bronze.

Japan dispatched athletes to 61 events in six sports in Canada, and ended up with 26 top-eight finishes, five more than four years ago.

“As we returned from Vancouver to Japan and so many people told me congratulations, I’m thrilled,” said Asada, who placed second behind South Korea’s Kim Yu Na but drew huge national attention during the event.

“(By finishing runnerup) I’m half excited and half frustrated right now. I’d like to use this silver medal as a steppingstone for the next Olympics in Sochi.”

Like Asada, Takahashi said that he wasn’t satisfied with his third-place finish, although he felt blessed to have won a medal.

“I couldn’t land a quadruple jump and made some mistakes in spinning. I’m mortified,” said the 23-year-old Takahashi, who indicated after his performance in Canada that he is going to hang up his skates after next year’s ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Japan. “I’ve not stood on top of the world yet, so I’ll be pursuing my best performance.”

For Tabata, a middle- and long-distance skater, it was her fourth Olympics appearance. She called her long-awaited achievement a “dream come true.”

“We could bring a medal back and a lot of people greeted us with the words ‘You did a great job’ at the airport. I was deeply moved by that,” the 35-year-old said with a smile.

“An Olympics medal has been my dream and I’ve finally reached it. I had huge support and couldn’t have come this far by myself. I’m filled with appreciation.”

Hashimoto, meanwhile, said that Japan has stronger potential, citing the fact that neighboring China and South Korea did quite well in Vancouver.

“This time around, Asia’s remarkable progress was conspicuous,” said Hashimoto, a former seven-time Olympian skater. “Toward Sochi, it was good that we explored what we’re supposed to do. We’d like to learn from China and South Korea, whose people have similar physique.”

South Korea earned 14 medals (six gold), increasing by three its total from the Turin Games. China garnered 11 medals, the same number it had in 2006, but won three more gold medals.