With the Athens Olympic Games looming, Japanese sports officials are exploring a variety of scientific devices and methods to secure as many gold medals for Japan as possible.

At the National Agency for the Advancement of Sports and Health in Tokyo’s Kita Ward, researcher Akifumi Matsuo, 51, can be found studying colorful images of running skeletons on a computer screen.

“It is possible to compare the same runner’s running posture in the past and at present,” he said.

Twelve cameras are located along a 100-meter section of the center’s indoor track. During tests, 36 globular markers, each about 2 cm in diameter, are attached to various parts of a runner’s body.

By combining the markers’ coordinate axes photographed at high speed, the runner’s movements can be reproduced in a 3-D image of his or her skeleton.

On the track floor, machines analyze the strength of impact when the runner’s feet hit the ground, with the results shown on a computer screen. The machines were introduced two years ago.

Matsuo said his aim is to figure out an average posture by collecting data from many runners. “At present, I am providing materials for runners to check their postures,” he said.

Many Olympic hopefuls have examined images of their skeletons to check how high their knees are when their thighs are raised and the extent to which their knees are straightened.

Matsuo himself won the 800 meters race at a national athletics meet when he was a high school student. “If there had been such machines, I could have undergone different training,” he said.

At the national swimming championships in April, Masaharu Kawai, 59, a member of the Japan Swimming Federation, was at the poolside to monitor pictures taken by underwater cameras.

Kawai is analyzing the postures of top swimmers, including Kosuke Kitajima, 21, a top gold medal prospect for the Athens Olympics in August.

Kawai has been advising Kitajima since his junior high school days.

When Kawai was an engineer at camera maker Nikon Corp., he was asked by a federation executive to take video footage at the pan-Pacific championships in Tokyo in 1989 due to persistent problems in determining the finishing order of races.

After the championships, he viewed recorded tapes and measured the time that elapsed between the start signal and the departure of swimmers’ feet from the stand.

“Japanese swimmers’ departure was more than 0.1 second later on average than Chinese swimmers’. There was a gap of 20 cm at the time of the start.”

The federation then picked Kawai as a member of its race committee. He began to analyze swimmers’ postures, and the coaches say that thanks to him, times have gotten faster.

“In the breaststroke, there is a time when speed becomes zero, although that cannot be seen by the naked eye. How to shorten this period is what decides the race,” he said.

The happiest moment for Kawai was when Kitajima established breaststroke world records in the 100 meters and 200 meters. “He can shorten the record time by one second more. I am confident that he will achieve that in Athens.”

At the All Japan Judo Championships in Tokyo on April 29, Yoichi Kouzuma, 49, an assistant professor at Tokai University, was monitoring competitors immediately before matches.

Kouzuma, a sports psychology expert, is in charge of overseeing the mental preparation of Japan’s judo team at the Athens Olympics.

“In Japan, physical and technical training is given top priority, but what I want is psychological strengthening,” he said.

“I have seen many who drastically transformed themselves by changing their way of thinking and mentally controlling themselves,” Kouzuma said.

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