More Sports | ASIAN GAMES

Delegation head praises Japan’s performance

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Yasuhiro Yamashita, head of Japan’s Asian Games delegation,and other officials who traveled to Jakarta were pleased to have their expectation exceeded during the tournament, where Japan exceeded its medal targets.

On Sunday, the country nabbed gold in the mixed triathlon relay, the final competition of the games. With that victory, Japan ended up with 75 gold medals and 205 (56 silver and 74 bronze) overall during the Asiad.

The total was a significant improvement from the 47 gold medals Japan earned during the previous games in Incheon, South Korea, four years ago. The nation also bettered its overall tally from four years ago by five.

Japan’s best-ever performance was at the 1966 games in Bangkok, when the nation captured 78 gold medals. This year’s total equaled Japan’s second-best performance, which was also achieved at the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran.

The nation finished second best in the medal standings after settling for third behind China and South Korea in the previous five Asian Games. China was No. 1 for the 10th consecutive time.

“These results exceeded the expectations of our delegation,” Yamashita told a news conference at the Asian Games’ main press center on Sunday morning ahead of the closing ceremony.

Japan gained momentum early on in swimming, from which the country earned 19 gold medals. Yamashita also pointed out the country’s achievements in team sports, such as golds in women’s team badminton, men’s and women’s field hockey and in fencing, the men’s epee and women’s fleuret squads.

The women’s badminton team earned gold for the first time in 48 years, while the field hockey and fencing teams shocked the region by winning their first-ever golds.

“I think the efforts of our swimming team had a lot to do with why we (achieved) those great accomplishments overall,” Yamashita said. “They created the mood that gave other athletes in different sports the confidence to perform boldly.”

Yamashita said the delegation was also pleased with the positive results by Japanese athletes in sports that will be new to the Olympic program in 2020, such as sport climbing and skateboarding.

Yamashita, a judo gold medalist at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, noted the strong performance of female athletes, listing that among the elements which should provide the country with a boost as it moves toward the Tokyo Olympics.

He also had a warning for those who underachieved and failed to earn medals, urging them and their national federations to work harder and concentrate their efforts on the 2020 Games.

“Winning 75 gold medals and a total of 205 medals, these are very pleasant results by themselves,” Yamashita said. “However, what’s really important is to develop for 2020 by capitalizing on their accomplishments here.

“Once you reach the top in Asia, other countries will begin to scout you. I would say (those who underachieved) will have hard times in 2020 if things stay the same. With that being said, they, including those who came up with good results, will only be able to achieve something special with continuing efforts for development toward 2020.

“Hopefully our athletes, including those who had success this time, will not be satisfied and keep working to take advantage of what they achieved here as they look to 2020.

Kozo Tashima, the Japan Football Association president who served as the deputy delegation leader, was in charge of Japanese teams for ball games in Jakarta. Overall, he was happy with their performance.

“Our results were horrific in Incheon,” Tashima said of Japan’s showing in sports such as football and baseball. “This time, we won so many medals and we believe that is because each federation committed to developing their sports during these past four years.

“But we still have gaps with the rest of the world. Especially in ball games, it is a fact that non-Asian countries are the top countries. With that in mind, we have got to work harder on our development toward 2020.”

Meanwhile, teenage swimming phenom Rikako Ikee flew back to Jakarta to accept the award for Most Valuable Player of the Asian Games. The 18-year-old had returned to Japan after the conclusion of the swimming competition.

Ikee became the fourth Japanese athlete to collect the accolade and the third Japanese swimmer, following Kosuke Kitajima in 2002 and Kosuke Hagino in 2014. She is the first-ever female athlete to earn the honor.

The award was presented by the Olympic Council of Asia, who took over administration of the prestigious honor when founders Samsung withdrew their sponsorship earlier this year after a five tournament run.

“I’m extremely happy to receive such a special award like this,” said Ikee, who triumphed in six different races to win the most gold medals by a Japanese athlete at the games. “I was disappointed to think that the MVP award was gone. But I was so happy to know the award was reestablished and I was chosen for it.”

The high school senior was also given $50,000 dollars as prize money.