Japan Rising Star Project aims to maximize nation’s young talent

by

Staff Writer

Sometimes, the sport you are playing might not be the right fit for you, and you might have the potential to excel in something else.

So why not switch sports?

The Japan Sports Agency and Japan Sports Association have launched a new initiative called the Japan Rising Star Project, which is meant to identify young talent — currently among junior high and high school students — who could potentially be Olympians in other sports.

At the Aug. 26 event at Nippon Sport Science University in Tokyo, a total of 40 boys and 66 girls, who were chosen through the application process in June, gathered to showcase themselves and go through physical tests looking for a chance to become future national team athletes at the Olympics.

The project, which began in July, is being held at nine different sites for Olympics sports, and five for Paralympic sports, and is scheduled to end later this month.

Diving, rowing, weightlifting, handball, cycling, softball and rugby sevens (for female athletes only) are the Olympic sports. Boccia, swimming, powerlifting, wheelchair fencing and cycling are the Paralympic sports.

The tests the participants went through for the Olympic sports included the vertical jump, 30-meter dash, medicine ball throw, shuttle run, mini handball game and riding a Wattbike (indoor training bike).

The applicants listed the sports they like to play on their applications, and those who pass the physical tests will advance to the training camp-style selections run by the national federations of each respective sport, starting in November. Overall, a total of around 40 athletes will proceed to the final stage.

Rui Nakamura, a female senior at Saitama Prefecture’s Asaka Nishi High School, plays basketball but came to the event at the recommendation of her physical education teacher, who saw the results of her physical measurement tests at the school.

Nakamura, who said she was fairly satisfied with her performance in the day’s tests at NSSU, is seeking a chance to move from the hardwood to the grass field to play rugby sevens.

The 18-year-old from Saitama, said she has never played rugby and that star national team player Ayumu Goromaru is the only player she recognizes. But she continued: “I have confidence in my long-distance running and hope people get to see it.”

Male high school student Toyoki Nishisho, meanwhile, has devoted himself to playing baseball all his athletic career since he was a child, and said he could use it to go to a university. But now he is looking to switch to another sport.

“I’ve played baseball for 13 years, but I came here looking for a chance to excel more (in another sport),” said the 17-year-old, who thinks handball is a good fit for his leaping ability. He notched 69 cm in that day’s vertical jump test.

“You live your life only once,” he said. “So I want to give it a shot.”

Actually, not all the participants were necessarily considering changing sports.

Yayoi Arai, a 14-year-old female junior high school student from Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, is a rugby player and applied for the project to be identified by the rugby federation.

“My parents found this project and I thought it was a chance,” said Arai, who plays with boys at a club rugby team in Tokyo.

Asked what her ultimate goal is, Arai ambitiously said, “It would be to compete at the Olympics and win it all.”

The project does not only provide a great opportunity for the young athletes, but also for the sports federations. Some federations, especially for minor sports, are desperate to find talent.

Rowing, for example, is a sport that can be picked up late, but it’s not easy to find the right talent.

Yuya Inohana, of the Japan Rowing Association, explained that athletes must have “a lot of output power” and be able to perform “for a long time,” and that the Wattbike test is ideal to look for those qualities.

The federation had held talent-identification events across the country on its own even before the Japan Rising Star Project began, but Inohana hopes that the government-led project will advertise the sport and that more young athletes will become interested.

Japan Sports Agency commissioner Daichi Suzuki encouraged the participants at the Aug. 26 event not to miss this rare opportunity.

“I’m hoping that we will have Japanese representatives at the 2020 Olympics and the ones after that,” the swimming gold medalist at the 1988 Seoul Summer Games told the young athletes at the beginning of the event.