For the general public, equestrian is likely among the more obscure sports on the Olympic program, something even those who run the sport acknowledge.
Which makes hosting events during the Olympics the perfect opportunity to advertise and promote the sport in Japan.
The Japan Equestrian Federation focused on educating the media through a lecture about the sport on Friday at JRA Equestrian Park, which will serve as the venue for equestrian at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next summer.
Hoping to broaden the appeal of the sport even further, the JEF brought in idol Yuka Sugai, a member of the popular girls group Sakurazaka 46. Sugai, 24, took up equestrian in elementary school and serves as a JEF special ambassador. She pointed out many of equestrian’s various appeals, including its unique status as the only Olympic sport where men and women compete together equally across each discipline.
The Olympic equestrian competition consists of three disciplines — dressage, jumping and eventing. While dressage and jumping might leave a stronger impression on most people, Sugai is eager to see the eventing competition at the games.
Eventing consists of dressage, jumping and cross country over three days of competition. While dressage and jumping will be held at the Equestrian Park in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, the cross-country portion will take place at the Sea Forest Cross-Country Course in Tokyo’s Koto Ward.
Riders will face a series of obstacles on the undulating cross-country course, including fences, hedges and water jumps.
“That’s what challenges you the most,” Sugai said. “It seems the rider and horse have a deeper bond after completing it.”
Equestrian at the Paralympics will only feature dressage.
The JEF also gave reporters a tour of the newly renovated Equestrian Park, which is located in the Yoga district of Setagaya Ward.
The venue was also used during the 1964 Tokyo Games. It needed to be almost entirely renovated to meet the current criteria for hosting an international event and to meet fire and earthquake standards.
Temporary stands will be set up in the main arena, where dressage and jumping will take place, and will seat up to 9,300. Construction of the seating area is currently on hold due to the postponement of the games.
Construction of the permanent facilities was completed in December 2019.
The park, which opened in 1940, is owned by the Japan Racing Association. The organization is an official contributor for the Tokyo Games.
After the games, the seating capacity of the main arena will be trimmed down to around 3,000.
JEF spokesperson Azusa Kitano said the Olympics and Paralympics will be a great opportunity to raise the sport’s profile.
“Equestrian isn’t a major sport in Japan, to be honest,” she said. “And the Olympics is the only event where you can see competition at this high of a level. In Japan, you rarely have a chance to see the world’s elite competitors because of travel issues and also quarantine issues (for the horses). It’s almost impossible for us to bring in the top competitors from the United States and Europe.
“So it’s a huge opportunity for us. Not just for the sake of the Japanese competitors, but it’s a great opportunity for Japanese people to observe the high level of the sport.”
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