National

Asian Games combed for tips ahead of 2020 Games

by Takuya Karube

Kyodo

Japanese officials have been busy over the past two weeks observing operations in and around the Asian Games venues in Indonesia to learn things that could help Tokyo put on a successful Olympics and Paralympics in 2020.

The priorities they focused on during the 16-day event, which ran from Aug. 18 to Sunday in Jakarta and Palembang, ranged from finding effective measures to deal with heat and heavy traffic to getting the best out of Japanese athletes.

As the record-breaking temperatures and stifling humidity this summer raised safety concerns for athletes and spectators alike, officials and sports bodies treated Indonesia’s weather conditions as an opportunity to test their countermeasures.

The Japan Association of Athletics Federations, which has tracked body temperatures and analyzed sweat from runners, prepared small bags of ice or palm-sized cold packs to help cool athletes during races.

In addition to periodically holding a cold pack in his hand, Hiroto Inoue, who won Japan’s first gold in 32 years in the men’s marathon at the Asian Games, made holes in his running gear to help cool his body.

The marathon started at 6 a.m., an hour earlier than the start time scheduled for the Tokyo Games, while the temperature was still around 26 degrees. But a number of athletes said afterward that they struggled to deal with the summer sun despite the presence of mist showers at various points along the course.

“Having each runner starting to think out and devise a better method is a big asset. But we still have room for improvement,” said Tadasu Kawano, a coach involved in training the Japanese runners, said.

Athletes involved in other outdoor sports, including soccer, hockey and beach volleyball, used ice to prevent “deep body temperatures” from rising to dangerous levels.

Japanese tennis players used ice vests during breaks in play, while golfers had their urine tested every day to enable them to optimize their hydration levels.

The JOC has required all sports organizations to report on what kind of steps they took to beat the Indonesian heat.

In cooperation with the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences, JOC officials said they will study the answers and other data collected during the event to advance arrangements for the national team.

Jakarta’s notorious traffic congestion also came under the spotlight. The city has a population of over 10 million, which basically puts on a par with Japan’s capital.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games sent a team tasked with investigating and analyzing transportation issues.

The team of about 10 officials was dispatched to look into how Jakarta’s public transportation network functioned during the games and whether competitors were able to travel quickly and comfortably from the athletes’ village to their venues, Tokyo 2020 spokesperson Masa Takaya said.

To curb traffic and pollution, the Indonesian capital closed some streets and expanded its driving policy of limiting the use of certain major roads to vehicles with odd- or even-numbered license plates on alternate days, a tactic employed before, during and after the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Despite the concerns, there were no severe disruptions caused by traffic jams, the officials said. Indonesia’s National Police Chief Tito Karnavian told a news conference Thursday that the Asian Games also saw no significant security problems.

While some officials pointed out security measures were not as tight as in previous large-scale events, they said Tokyo has much to learn from Indonesia about creating a festival-like atmosphere, such as replicating the scores of food stalls and bands that were seen outside Jakarta’s GBK Main Stadium.

Delegation chief Yasuhiro Yamashita used much of his time to visit the areas where Tokyo’s gold medal hopefuls were competing, saying he had to keep tabs on their progress as 2020 approaches.

Yamashita said the Asian Games provided a chance for JOC officials to address any obstacles that could prevent Japan from reaching its stated target of 30 gold medals, which is almost double its record tally of 16 achieved at the 1964 and 2004 Olympics.

Since the event was the last opportunity to bring together a large national team before the Olympics, Kenji Kasahara, director of the JOC sports department, said nurturing a sense of solidarity among the various competitors living together in the athletes’ village was of foremost importance.

Noting that there were many who had not experienced “Team Japan” before the games in Indonesia, Kasahara said they were the “newest addition to the family and it was like leaving for a big family trip for the first time.”

He said athletes from sports newly added for 2020, including karate and sports climbing, had been like relatives rather than core family members of the national team until the Asian Games.

Although four basketball players were kicked off the national team for buying sex in Jakarta a day after the games opened, the officials said they believe many other athletes had a good experience representing Japan.

And for Ryo Kiyuna, the men’s karate kata gold medalist in Jakarta, the experience got him excited about the upcoming games in Tokyo, he said.

“When I was in my room and having meals at the athletes’ village, I thought this kind of atmosphere would be close to what I would face two years from now.”