GUANGZHOU, China – Japanese officials on Saturday admitted they underestimated the competition at the Asian Games after placing a distant third in the medal standings and failing to achieve all of their main targets.
“The athletes could not devote themselves to the Asian Games as they do with the world championships,” Haruki Uemura, the No. 2 of the Japanese delegation, told a press conference. “But from now on, we have to treat it as the Olympics of Asia.”
Japan had expected to win more than 50 gold medals — the number achieved at the Doha Games in 2006 — and to finish second on the medals tables behind China.
Through Friday, however, Japan was in third with 48 golds, 27 less than South Korea.
“We had expected the Asian Games to be an opportunity to draw some positive conclusions ahead of the Olympics in London,” Japanese delegation chief Noriyuki Ichihara said. “But we must accept the result gravely. This shows where Japan stands in Asia at the moment.”
Japan did not bring its top athletes in many of the sports, such as two-time world champion gymnast Kohei Uchimura or the women’s volleyball team, whose schedule clashed with the world championships where they won bronze.
And those who competed at their respective world championships prior to the Asian Games failed to strike gold in Guangzhou, such as fencer Yuki Ota — who won a silver at the Beijing Olympics — and judoka Takamasa Anai and Daiki Kamikawa. They all cited fatigue or lack of motivation.
“In Asia, you can no longer expect to win with second-tier athletes,” Uchimura said.
Japan also failed to capitalize in the sports with numerous disciplines, as South Korea managed to do. Of the 44 events in shooting, South Korea won 13 gold medals; in takewondo it took 4 out of 10, and 7 of 12 in fencing.
As things stand, the top athletes in each sport participate in world championships and world cups according to a schedule set by their respective international federations,” Ichihara said.
“But at these Asian Games, the quality of the competition was high. The number of participants, the volume of accommodation was at Olympic levels. The Japanese Olympic Committee and the national governing bodies of each sport must reevaluate the Asian Games.”
“We must increase the future number of first-class athletes in each sport.”