Murofushi urges Japanese athletes to expand horizons in preparation for 2020 Games


Staff Writer

Former Olympic hammer champion Koji Murofushi has urged Japan’s athletes to embrace the pressure of the 2020 Tokyo Games and end the country’s track and field gold drought.

Murofushi won Japan’s last athletics gold at the 2004 Athens Games when he was bumped up to first place following the disqualification of Hungary’s Adrian Annus for a doping offense.

Japan will try to end its lean spell in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, but Murofushi, who also won Olympic bronze in London two years ago, believes the Tokyo Games will offer a unique opportunity for those brave enough to take it.

“Any time soon we have a chance, and definitely Tokyo will be our best chance, of course,” the 2011 world champion told reporters at National Stadium on Sunday.

“I think there’s a chance, of course, but you have to plan very well and not just compete in Japan. You have to compete in many international competitions to get used to the pressure, because there will be pressure from the audience and from all the Japanese people.

“So you have to overcome that, but if you think positively you will get lots and lots of energy. I hope the athletes will take it in a positive way that they will have an advantage and perform well.”

Murofushi was speaking ahead of Japan’s Asian 5 Nations rugby game against Hong Kong at National Stadium, the final official sporting event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic venue before it is torn down and refurbished for the 2020 Games.

Murofushi waved a fond farewell to the stadium where he and his father Shigenobu, also a former Olympic hammer thrower, competed many times.

“There are a lot of memories, ever since I was a child,” said the 39-year-old. “My father was an athlete so I had the chance to come and see him. It was almost like my playground.

“So it’s not just for athletics, it’s a place for holding international gatherings. Hopefully the next stadium will be as well, as an international gathering place for Japanese people to be more international. That’s my hope.”

The design for Tokyo’s new stadium, by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, has come under fire from local architects who fear it will dominate the surrounding area, and have launched a petition in an attempt to force a rethink.

Murofushi acknowledges that the planned stadium, which will be as tall as a 20-storey skyscraper when completed, has divided opinion, but believes the result will be worth it.

“There are a lot of opinions at this point but I think it’s wonderful if you can make it,” he said.

“It’s going to be futuristic with new ideas, and I think young people will like the design. But we’ll see. There are a lot of things that people are saying about it.

“But anyway, this is a place that has to be a place for international gatherings and not just a sports event. We are going to have lots of events before and after too, so hopefully any stadium will be an international gathering place, and a symbol of international gathering.”