Japan picks over bones of Vancouver medal tally

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Was it success or under-achievement? The Japanese squad for the Vancouver Winter Olympics returned home with five medals and 26 top-eight finishes — both better feats than at the 2006 Turin Games.

But some argued that Japan’s accomplishments didn’t live up to expectations for the following reasons: Team Japan failed to win a gold medal, did not reach its original goal of more than 10 medals, and Asian neighbors South Korea and China fared far better with 14 and 11 medals, respectively.

“As Team Japan, we wanted to win a gold,” said Seiko Hashimoto, who acted as the chief of Team Japan, at a news conference upon the team’s arrival in Tokyo last week. “We would like to unite as one and grab a gold medal in Sochi.”

Hashimoto said that while Japanese athletes should work hard based on well-developed plans over the next four years until the Sochi Games, they need more support from the government in order to prepare in the right environment.

South Korea is believed to have spent around $10 billion annually to strengthen Olympic-class athletes over the last few years, while Japan invested only $2.7 billion.

“We learned in Vancouver that your competitiveness improves depending on the (athletes’) circumstances,” said Hashimoto, who added that she exchanged opinions with South Korean executives and athletes during the Olympics.

In the meantime, there is an opinion that Japan should seek its own methods to develop athletes rather than following the path set by other countries.

Well-known sports critic Masayuki Tamaki says there is no need for Japan to enhance its prestige by investing so much money solely focusing on earning Olympic medals like China and South Korea.

“I don’t think it means much (in Japan) to assemble elite athletes and train them to the level of medals and top-eight finishes,” Tamaki told The Japan Times in a phone interview last week. “They focus on sports where they think they can win medals, and not on sports where they don’t think they can win medals.

“I don’t think it’s helpful to resemble those countries that are vying for medals. I think Japan should have its own way.”

Hashimoto, a Councilor of the Liberal Democratic Party, said she would entreat the government for a bigger budget for winter sports from now on, as there is a limit to improving athletes with only financial support from private companies.

That is fine, according to Tamaki. But before that, Japan would be better off looking inside the team.

The sharp-tongued Tamaki believes it was unnatural for Team Japan to have more officials (111) than athletes (94) for Vancouver.

South Korea brought only 37 officials — to 45 athletes — to Canada. The United States dispatched 216 athletes, while sending only 144 officials.

“Whether which one of these officials should go or not, they have to look into it,” Tamaki said.

Finally, opposing those who thought it wasn’t a successful Olympics for Japan, Tamaki gave his personal opinion.

“I thought this Olympics was a very refreshing, pleasant one for Japan, apart from the number of medals,” Tamaki said.

“I think that Japanese citizens think about sport in a pretty good manner. Obviously, there are tons of issues. But at the same time, it is a fact that we were excited during the Vancouver Games. You could say that it could’ve been more pleasant with a few more medals, though.”