Team Japan targets short- and long-term success at Asian Games

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Team leader Yasuhiro Yamashita promised that Japan would do its best at the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia, but added that it would also serve as a significant stepping stone for the athletes toward Tokyo 2020.

“As we have the Tokyo Olympics in two years’ time, our athletes will give everything they have now and we believe that effort will lead to 2020,” delegation leader and former Olympic judo gold medalist Yamashita said at a Tokyo news conference on Monday, following an inauguration ceremony attended by Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko.

Yamashita said that the delegation has not set any numerical targets in terms of medals going into the 18th Asian Games, which officially begin on Aug. 18.

“With the Olympics coming in two years’ time, we have had a lot of discussions among ourselves and we have to prioritize the Olympics,” Yamashita said. “We have set our goal to win 30 gold medals at Tokyo. We came up with that number after a thorough analysis.

“Furthermore, there are so many international tournaments before and after this Asian Games and some of the sports will dispatch backup team members. Having taken all that into consideration, we decided to not set any medal goals. However, we do think that how we perform here (at the Asian Games) will be extremely important toward the Tokyo Olympics.”

Team Japan, whose delegation consists of 762 athletes and 334 officials this time, earned 200 medals (47 gold, 76 silver and 77 bronze) for third place in the medal standings at the last Asiad in Incheon, South Korea, four years ago.

Japan has finished behind China and South Korea in the medal standings at the last five Asian Games.

Track and field star Ryota Yamagata will serve as captain of the delegation while softball pitcher Yukiko Ueno will be the flag-bearer at the opening ceremony.

“After the Asian Games, there will be only two years until the Tokyo Olympics,” said Yamagata, who is looking to win golds in the men’s 100 meters and 4×100 relay. “This Asian Games will be an opportunity for us to make a big step and if our team performs well there, it will stir the interest of the public for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. So we want to make sure we’ll do our best.”

Some athletes feel obliged to prove that Japan is a regional powerhouse in their respective sports by coming up with dominating results and providing a boost toward 2020.

“We are looking to capture gold medals in all classes, men and women, plus the team competition,” 48-kg judoka Ami Kondo said at a send-off ceremony, which was held after the news conference. “I think we have a good chance to win in all classes.”

Japan’s badminton players, who racked up an all-time best six medals (including two golds) at the world championships in Nanjing recently, have rapidly risen to a global elite level in recent years. The athletes are motivated to rule at the Asiad as well.

“We have been able to compete at the top level in the world, both men and women,” said Ayaka Takahashi, who won the gold medal in the women’s doubles at the Rio Olympics with partner Misaki Matsutomo. “So we would like to win gold in all the disciplines.”

It will be the second time for Jakarta to host an Asian Games. Interestingly, the first Jakarta Games in 1962 were held two years before the first Tokyo Olympics, just like this time.