• AFP-JIJI, REUTERS

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Japan’s hefty medal haul helped build public support for the Tokyo Olympics and ease opposition to the Games despite the pandemic, the Japanese Olympic Committee said Sunday.

The country won a record 27 golds at the virus-delayed Games, easily breaking its previous record of 16 set at the 1964 Tokyo Games and in Athens in 2004.

“We believe our athletes’ earnest spirit and all-out performance moved people,” Tsuyoshi Fukui, chef de mission for the Japanese team, told reporters.

If Japan’s public interprets those efforts as a message of gratitude from athletes that Tokyo 2020 was able to go ahead, “that’s the best result for us,” he added.

Mitsugi Ogata, general manager for Japan’s national delegation, lauded the athletes on Sunday, saying he was “happy we could deliver some uplifting news.”

There were concerns about the Games being written off as “unnecessary” amid a pandemic, but with the performances of the Japanese athletes, organizers “have gradually gained the understanding of the public,” he said at a news conference.

As the country racked up gold medals in sports from gymnastics to baseball, “the number of children and their parents seen cheering on the street increased,” he said.

And more Japanese flags appeared on balconies near the Olympic Village, Ogata added.

Gold medal-winning skateboarder Yuto Horigome of Japan poses on the podium at Ariake Sports Park in Tokyo on July 25. | AFP-JIJI
Gold medal-winning skateboarder Yuto Horigome of Japan poses on the podium at Ariake Sports Park in Tokyo on July 25. | AFP-JIJI

Japan’s total medal tally stood at 58, also a record and more than the previous high of 37 medals at Athens.

That includes medals in surfing and climbing and a gold for Tokyo local Yuto Horigome in skateboarding — all three among sports that made their Olympics debut in Tokyo.

Japan also steadily clocked up medals in judo, with Uta and Hifumi Abe becoming the first siblings in Olympic history to win gold medals on the same day.

Initial projections by data company Gracenote had pegged Japan’s expected medal haul this year at 60.

Japan also faced some big disappointments as tennis star and top medal contender Naomi Osaka got knocked out in the third round of the competition, a few days after she lit the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony.

Also in golf, high-profile Hideki Matsuyama failed to bag a bronze at the men’s competition.

While most of the public remained opposed to the Games, after they were postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19, the IOC has touted the high TV viewership to show the Japanese public’s support of the event.

TV ratings for a football semi-final between Japan and Spain at one point soared to 43%, according to the daily Yomiuri.

Organizers have also hailed their success in preventing a COVID-19 superspreader event among Olympic staff and athletes.

The second Olympic flame cauldron is seen next to a signboard advising visitors to maintain social distance at Ariake Yume-no-Ohashi Bridge, on July 24, a day after the official opening of Tokyo Olympics. | REUTERS
The second Olympic flame cauldron is seen next to a signboard advising visitors to maintain social distance at Ariake Yume-no-Ohashi Bridge, on July 24, a day after the official opening of Tokyo Olympics. | REUTERS

However, daily coronavirus cases in the host city have ballooned during the Games, exceeding previous highs and at one point reaching over 5,000 cases — a headache for the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee.

Although declining to give a final verdict on the Games until the Paralympics is over, Tokyo 2020 head Seiko Hashimoto said she “couldn’t say at this stage that we have achieved 100% success,” at a news conference on Sunday.

“If we had spectators, we wouldn’t have been able to provide a sense of safety for the general public,” Hashimoto said. The Games were held largely without spectators — a necessary evil for the organizers.

She said that she didn’t feel that the Games were “fully accepted” by the public yet, adding that there was room for improvement.

The Olympics was held within a “bubble” of incoming athletes and officials, separating them from the general public and preventing the spread of the virus.

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto admitted there were stray incidents of Olympic-related people leaving the Olympic village, but said that “all in all, I would say that the bubble has been maintained.”

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