The uncertainty around Russia’s Olympic buildup means Japan and other countries could be in a position to make a significant jump on the medal table at next month’s Rio Olympics, according to a group of analysts.
With Russia’s normally successful athletics competitors soon to find out whether the fallout from the country’s doping scandal will mean they are unable to compete under the Russian flag, if at all, Gracenote Sports says the third rank on the medal table that has been shared by China and Russia at the last four Olympics is completely up for grabs.
“The situation with Russia means that (the third rank is) becoming more and more of a possibility, for not only Japan but also for a number of other countries,” Gracenote Sports’ Head of Analytics Simon Gleave told Kyodo News after releasing the company’s Virtual Medal Table prediction on Wednesday.
“We have Great Britain and Germany in fourth and fifth rank, Great Britain on 18 (gold medals) and Germany on 16, Australia are also on 16 and then comes Japan on 14,” he said.
Gracenote Sports’ medal prediction still has Russia slotted in that third position, but they are still including athletics medals in their count, something they will do until those athletes’ fates are known.
But with Russia predicted to win six medals, and considering the country’s strong history in Olympic athletics — it won six golds in London, even after subsequent disqualifications — the rankings are likely to get a shakeup if the athletics ruling goes against them.
“If you take athletics out, which is obviously a reasonable thing to do, that brings (the predicted total of) Russia down to 57 medals, giving them 20 gold, 19 silver and 18 bronze.
“The worst they have done is 63 medals from Atlanta in 1996. It looks like they are going to be close to their poorest performance,” said Gleave.
Despite the company’s algorithm saying there are a number of other countries ahead of Japan in the race for third, one aspect that cannot be counted out is the Tokyo 2020 effect — the idea that a country outperforms itself with the prospect of hosting just four years down the track.
The most recent hosts, Brazil, Britain, China, Greece, Australia and the United States, all achieved their highest non-hosting medal tallies four years before they held the Games.
“I think we are now seeing the effect, or the beginning effect of Tokyo 2020,” says Gleave.
“We’re seeing with Japan what we often see with countries who are going to host the Games, which is the potential for a very good performance in the Games before the ones they host.
“We saw that, for example, with Great Britain in 2008 in Beijing, where they produced their best performance for 100 years, I believe.”
Whether Japan can make such a leap likely will come down to the performance of the country’s world beaters, like gymnast Kohei Uchimura, medley swimmer Kosuke Hagino, and wrestlers Saori Yoshida and Kaori Icho.
If they can live up to their promise, while seeing some of the country’s borderline gold medal chances step up, then Japan could start the Tokyo 2020 countdown in perfect style.