National

800,000 people crowd Tokyo to celebrate Olympians, Paralympians

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

An estimated 800,000 spectators thronged the streets of Tokyo on Friday to celebrate Japan’s Rio Olympic and Paralympic medal-winning athletes in an open-top parade.

The procession of 50 Olympians and 37 Paralympians traveled a 2.5-km course from the city’s Toranomon area, through Ginza to the Nihonbashi district, more than double the length of the previous parade following the London Games four years ago, which attracted around half a million supporters.

Friday’s parade marked the first time that Japanese athletes who competed in the Olympics and Paralympics have taken part in the event together.

“It’s a chance to thank the athletes and it gives the Japanese people strength and energy,” said 47-year-old part-time worker Eri Ogane, who went to Toranomon to watch the start of the parade.

“The next Olympics are in Tokyo and excitement is building toward that. I’m not here to support any particular athlete. I just want to see them all.”

The parade began with a ceremony that saw Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike hand over the Olympic and Paralympic flags to athletes Saori Yoshida, who won the Olympic women’s freestyle wrestling 53-kg silver medal in Rio, and women’s Paralympic wheelchair tennis singles bronze medalist Yui Kamiji.

“This is the first time that the Olympic and Paralympic teams have been together in a parade, and I’m very happy to come together as one Team Japan with athletes who we don’t usually get a chance to mix with,” said Yoshida, whose bid to win a fourth straight Olympic gold medal fell just short in Rio.

“I’m happy that all the athletes who won medals can show their appreciation to the nation for all its support. I hope this excitement will keep up until Pyeongchang (Winter Games) in two years’ time and on to Tokyo in 2020.”

Japan won a best-ever 41 medals at the Aug. 5 to 21 Rio Olympics, including 12 gold, eight silver and 21 bronze. Japan failed to win any gold medals at the Sept. 7 to 18 Paralympics but came home with 10 silver and 14 bronze.

“I took part in the parade four years ago and I thought I was ready for it this time, but I didn’t think I would see as many people as this,” said wrestler Kaori Icho, who became the first woman to claim individual gold medals at four consecutive Olympics when she won the 58-kg freestyle title in Rio.

“There was a supporter holding up a fan with me on it. One side had my smiling face and the other had me looking scary in the middle of a match.”

The Japanese government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Japanese Olympic Committee decided to hold the joint Olympic-Paralympic parade to build momentum toward Tokyo’s hosting of the events in 2020.

“I want to work hard so that I can take part in the parade again four years from now,” said gymnast Kohei Uchimura, who won gold in both the men’s individual and team all-around competition in Rio.

“I feel like a superstar. Everyone is congratulating us and saying well done, and all I feel from everyone is appreciation.”

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