As anticipated, Atsunori Inaba will continue to lead Samurai Japan at the Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His goal, of course, will be unchanged: win nothing but the gold medal.
“I told him that I would take it,” Inaba said during an online news conference after Nippon Professional Baseball secretary general Atsushi Ihara officially delivered the formal request to him in Sapporo on Friday. “And that we shall proceed to discuss our schedule, training camp and scouting visit plans toward next year.”
Inaba’s contract was originally set to expire at the end of September.
Ihara would not reveal the details of Inaba’s new contract, which he will presumably sign soon. But Ihara said the Tokyo Olympics would be the “final step” for the manager, indicating it would conclude after the games.
Since his 2017 appointment, Inaba has stressed that Japan’s struggles at the Olympics could only be avenged in the quadrennial sporting extravaganza, not in any other tournament. The 47-year-old reasserted that belief on Friday.
“Ever since I took the job, I’ve said that we’d aim to get payback for our Olympic disappointment at the Olympics and those thoughts haven’t changed,” Inaba said. “We’ll continue to put forward our best effort toward the gold medal we are aiming for.”
Japan’s best result at the Olympics has been a silver medal at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Loaded with star NPB players, including Inaba himself, Japan finished fourth at the 2008 Beijing Games, the last time the sport was played at the Olympics.
While baseball and softball will return to the competition calendar in Tokyo, both will be excluded from the 2024 Paris Olympics.
With coronavirus infections continuing to rise globally, there has been some speculation that the games will not be held next summer. While Inaba expressed his own concerns, he said he would not dwell too much on what he cannot control, instead focusing on preparing his squad to accomplish its objective.
Inaba was also unconcerned with the possibility that Samurai Japan would be unable to play warm-up games against other countries before the Olympics, noting that other teams could face similar situations.
Although he’s been given extra time to evaluate players due to the postponement of the games, Inaba said he had no intention to completely reshuffle the squad he fielded in last fall’s Premier 12, in which Japan captured the gold medal.
“Basically, I’ll stick with the idea of forming our team around the one that played in the Premier 12,” he said. “But at the same time, with the games having been pushed by a year, I think we might need to think flexibly.”
Inaba added that he hopes the potential emergence of young talent would make his job a little more difficult.
Inaba had served as a hitting coach for Japan under manager Hiroki Kokubo since 2015. As a player, he represented his country at the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classic, winning gold at the former.
Inaba, a former Yakult Swallows and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder who retired in 2014, came up with 2,167 hits with 261 homers in his 20-year career.