With two weeks remaining until the start of the Tokyo Olympics, the Japanese Olympic Committee unveiled its 1,058-member delegation on Tuesday evening in a send-off ceremony more subdued than usual as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The event was attended in person by JOC President Yasuhiro Yamashita, delegation head Tsuyoshi Fukui, Team Japan captain Ryota Yamagata, flag-bearer Yui Susaki and a handful of other athletes, with remaining participants joining virtually.
A total of 582 athletes — 306 men and 276 women — were registered to Team Japan, representing a 64% increase over the host delegation’s previous record of 355 — set at the first Tokyo Games in 1964.
A total of 476 officials have also been listed in the delegation for the 32nd Summer Olympics, which will take place from July 23 to Aug. 8 in the capital and other host cities.
Acknowledging the extraordinary circumstances under which the games will be held, Yamashita expressed his respect for the selected athletes, who had to adapt their training regimens following the March 2020 postponement of the event amid multiple state-of-emergency declarations and strict restrictions on international travel.
“The Olympics have been postponed for the first time ever and our daily lives have completely changed, as have the circumstances athletes are training in,” Yamashita said during the ceremony. “And we have felt over the past year that it is important for those who are associated with sports to have goals and a future to aim for. I would like to express my utmost respect for the athletes that have been selected.”
Yamashita said that the Tokyo Olympics would carry a variety of meanings amid the pandemic, even as segments of the public have questioned the necessity of the games.
“The Olympics will be the stage where the athletes can deliver dreams and hopes to people,” the judo gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Games said. “The world has been divided because of the pandemic, but sports can connect people.”
Crown Prince Akishino, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and education minister Koichi Hagiuda contributed their own messages of encouragement through prerecorded videos.
“It is hard to foresee when the pandemic will settle and I imagine that will make it difficult to hold exchanges between the participants — something the Olympics aim for in order to build a peaceful, better world,” Akishino said. “Despite the circumstances, I would like the participants to hold such exchanges when it is possible.”
Suga said that as a high school student in 1964 he was particularly inspired by the gold medal-winning performance of the Japanese women’s volleyball team, which was dubbed the “Oriental Witches,” at the first Tokyo Games.
Track star Yamagata, who set a national record in the men’s 100-meter sprint last month, took an oath on behalf of the athletes, saying that they would compete with the pride and responsibility of representing the country at an Olympics held on home soil.
“I have been thinking about the value of sports and what we could do given the situation,” said the 29-year-old, who will be making his third straight Olympic appearance. “We need to focus on what we can do in the moment and on doing the best we can — I think that is what we should do. I swear that we will compete at our best as members of Team Japan.”
Some athletes who participated virtually, among them three-time gymnastics gold medalist Kohei Uchimura, seemed uncomfortable during the event — a reflection of the struggle organizers have faced in creating excitement for an Olympic Games that will take place within a massive safety “bubble” and in front of historically small numbers of fans.
“We’ve done many of the interviews online recently and gotten used to these conditions,” Uchimura said when asked how he felt about taking part in Tuesday’s ceremony. “But attending these major ceremonies online didn’t feel sufficient enough for the occasion.”
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