RIO DE JANEIRO – The Japanese Olympic Committee cast a satisfied eye over its biggest-ever Olympic medal haul at the Rio Games on Sunday but warned money must be spent to perform even better at Tokyo 2020.
Japan headed into the final day of competition at Rio 2016 having won a total of 41 medals, bettering the country’s previous best of 38 set four years ago at the London Games. Japan claimed 12 golds — second only to the 16 it took from Athens in 2004 — eight silver and 21 bronzes, and headed into the final day sixth in the overall medal table.
But the JOC has set a target of finishing in the top three with a minimum of 20 gold medals on home turf in four years’ time, and Japan Chef de Mission Seiko Hashimoto warned that the achievement will not come without further investment.
“Of course there are things that we could have done better, but they relate to budget,” said Hashimoto, who also set Japan a minimum target of winning a medal in each of the 33 sports at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I don’t mean that money solves everything, but in terms of strengthening our training, for every medal we need a budget. There were problems with resources and the athletes had to give 200 percent to make up the gap.
“We need to really convey why the Olympics and sports are so important. We need to communicate this to the wider public to make sure we secure the necessary budget to make the 2020 Games a real success.”
Japan enjoyed its biggest success at Rio 2016 in its traditional stronghold of judo, taking 12 medals overall, including three golds.
But there was also a first-ever canoe slalom medal as Takuya Haneda took bronze and a first badminton gold for doubles pair Ayaka Takahashi and Mizuki Matsutomo, and the JOC hopes to see Japan break more new ground in 2020.
“One of the challenges we had set was to win medals in new sports,” said Hashimoto, a seven-time Olympic speed skater and cyclist who won 1,500-meter bronze at the 1992 Albertville Winter Games.
“We have been able to prove that we can win medals even in unlikely events, and this provides inspiration for young athletes in particular. We have great hope for the future.
“We need to strengthen the National Training Center to underscore the strong performances we have seen already. In Tokyo, we want to be No. 3 in total medals, and to achieve this ambitious goal we need to have training centers inside Japan but also abroad. We need to have a presence outside of Japan where athletes can train.”
The JOC also praised the performance of Japan’s young athletes, with wrestlers Sara Dosho, Eri Tosaka and Risako Kawai all winning golds in their early 20s and 15-year-old Mima Ito helping Japan claim bronze in the women’s team table tennis event.
“Young athletes have performed well,” said Deputy Chef de Mission Yuji Takada, a bronze medal-winning wrestler at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. “These are athletes that young people look up to, and I hope they take inspiration from their performance and go on to do well at the Tokyo Olympics.”
Japan’s male athletes outperformed their female counterparts in Rio by a total of 23 medals to 18, but the women claimed more golds, with seven compared to the men’s five.
“The number of female athletes is increasing and their performance has improved a lot,” said Hashimoto, Japan’s first-ever female chef de mission at the Summer Games. “I’m very happy with that. Japan as a nation is now taking seriously how sports for women ought to be. Up until now in Japan, there were no specific measures being taken for women in sports.”
But the JOC also praised its athletes for the way they conducted themselves away from the sporting field in Rio, and stressed their responsibilities as role models for the rest of the country.
“At the opening ceremony, the Japanese athletes were the only ones not carrying their mobile phones as they walked through the stadium,” said Hashimoto. “I think that received a lot of positive feedback, but for us it goes without saying. Why would you be looking at your phone when you’re taking part in such an important ceremony?
“We were surprised that so many athletes from other countries even dared to have their phones, but this seems to be a sign of the times. We want our athletes to be slightly different. We want them to be role models and inspire young people.”