Japanese Olympic team launched

The Japanese delegation of 240 athletes and officials for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Turin was officially launched with a ceremony in Tokyo on Sunday.

Japan will send 113 athletes and 127 officials to the Feb. 10-26 Games, making it the country’s largest delegation for an overseas Winter Olympics, surpassing the group of 218 delegates who took part in the Salt Lake City Games four years ago.

A total of 106 members of the delegates were present at the ceremony, which was also attended by Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda.

“We pledge to do our best to win medals while making efforts to deepen exchanges with athletes of other countries and contribute to world peace,” figure skater Fumie Suguri, who took the role of acting captain in the absence of Tomomi Okazaki, said in a message she delivered on behalf of all athletes for the Turin Games.

Earlier this month, the JOC named Okazaki Japan’s captain and selected fellow speed skater Joji Kato as the flag bearer to lead the Japanese delegation in the opening ceremony on Feb. 10.

At Sunday’s ceremony, Takeda handed the delegation flag to ski jumper Takanobu Okabe, who stood in for Kato, via delegation head Kenichi Chizuka.

Okazaki and Kato are in the Netherlands to skate in the world sprint championships this weekend together with the other Japanese sprint skaters bound for Turin.

Okazaki, who won the Nagano Olympic 500-meter bronze medal and will make her fourth straight Winter Olympic appearance in Turin, is the second woman to be named Japan’s captain for an Olympics, either Summer or Winter Games. Seiko Hashimoto was captain for the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

Veteran Japanese ski jumpers Masahiko Harada and Noriaki Kasai will be the first in history to represent their country in five consecutive Winter Games.

Skeleton athlete Kazuhiro Koshi is at 41 the oldest athlete in the delegation while 16-year-old ski jumper Kenshiro Ito is the youngest member. Japanese women will make up 47 percent of the contingent, which is also the most ever representing the country at a Winter Games.

Japan is aiming to rebound from a dismal showing of winning just two medals — one silver and one bronze — in Salt Lake City following its record haul of 10 medals, including five golds, on home soil in Nagano in 1998.