Japan heading for great sporting success at the 2020 Olympics
June 19, 2019
There is only one year to Tokyo in the days of July 24 – August 9 will host the 2020 Olympics. The populous and proud empire was also in 1964 host of the first Olympic Games held in Asia. In addition, Japan has previously been very successful in organizing the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo and the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. Especially the 1964 Olympics gave Japan great international recognition and the Olympic Games were also a great sporting success, as the Japanese athletes and teams won a total of 29 medals (16 gold, 5 silver and 8 bronze medals), which gave Japan an impressive 3’rd place in nation competition, only beaten by the United States and the Soviet Union. I’m absolutely sure that the 2020 Olympics will also be a great sporting success for Japan. It shows virtually all international results in many sports at the 2016 Olympics, the World Championships and the Asian Games, since Japan was awarded the hosting of the 2020 Olympics six years ago.
Top-10 nation at all Olympics after World War II
Japan participated for the first time in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm and since then the nation, where the general participation in sports is surprisingly low, has competed at virtually every Olympic Games since. However, Japan was not invited to attend the 1948 Olympics in London, like Japan – as many Western nations – choose not to participate in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Japan won the first Olympic medal in 1920 and Japanese athletes and teams have won a total of 439 medals at the Summer Olympics, most gold medals won in judo. Also in sports such as gymnastics, wrestling and swimming – all sports with many disciplines – Japan has won a lot of Olympic medals throughout the decades. It will also be in these sports as well as athletics with 48 different disciplines that Japan will be among the medal candidates for the next summer Olympics.
Olympic Games 2016 – a step on the road to the Olympics 2020
Already at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Japan achieved many surprising results, bringing Japan a great sixth place in the nation competition behind the United States, Great Britain, China, Russia and Germany – but ahead of strong sports nations such as France, Korea, Italy and Australia. Japan won a total of 41 Olympic medals (12 gold, 8 silver and 21 bronze medals) in 2016, but I believe that Japan wins up to 70 medals next year. Nor is there any doubt in my mind that Japan will be among medal candidates in several of the new Olympic sports: Karate, climbing, surfing and skateboarding, as well as baseball and softball, which are back on the Olympic program.
The world’s best badminton nation – ahead of China
Also in two of Denmark’s strongest Olympic sports – badminton and sailing – the competitions with the Japanese athletes and teams at home count can be extremely challenging. Japan has so far “only” won 3 Olympic medals since badminton was introduced to the Olympic program in 1992. But that number is certainly increasing significantly by the 2020 Olympics. Currently, Japan has 8 top 4 players/couples in the five categories: Momota in men’s singles, Okultara and Yamaguchi in women’s singles, Kamura and Sonoda in men’s doubles, Matsumoto and Nagahara, Fukushima and Hirota as well as Matsumoto and Takahashi in women’s doubles as well as Watanabe and Higashinmo in mix double. By comparison, Denmark today only has Viktor Axelsen as top 4 player in men’s singles, while China “only” has 6 top-4 players/couple one year before the 2020 Olympics.
There have been no special traditions for Olympic sailing despite Japan’s geographical location with lots of ports across the country. Japan has often been represented at the Olympics in several boat classes, but to date only 2 Olympic medals have been achieved. However, at the World Championship 2018 in sailing, which was held in Aarhus, Japan showed impressive results in “the 470 class”, where it became the WC-gold medals in the women and the WC silver medals in the men. In comparison, Denmark won at home count one single WC bronze medal by Anne-Marie Rindom in “Laser Radial”.
Close interaction between athletes, coaches and researchers – as well as a massive financial investment
Of course, there are many explanations for Japan’s strong sporting position with less than 13 months before the 2020 Olympics. The most important are many financial and human resources invested by the government and the Ministry of Sports in the athletes and teams of all 33 sports that the host nation is required to participate in at the 2020 Olympics. In addition, over the past decades, Japan has built one of the world’s best organizational structures for talent development and elite sports. The primary partner in the structure is the “Japan Sports Council”, which is responsible for the development of the “Japan Institute of Sport Science” (JISS) and “AJINOMOTO National Training Center” (NTC). At these two facilities, world-class training and research environments have been created where athletes, teams, coaches and experts can conduct daily training and competition preparations ahead of the Japanese athletes and teams’ international competitions: the Olympics, World Championships, Asian Games and World Cups. JISS consists of a research center for sports science and sports medicine (incl. Human Performance Lab), High Performance Gym, training facilities, modern testing facilities, nutritional guidance, training physiology and sport psychology. The research units under JISS have employed both national and international researchers who can provide advice and guidance to athletes, coaches, sports managers and federations in collaboration with the “Japan Olympic Committee”, research institutions and commercial partners. The AJINOMOTO National Training Center consists of training facilities for a variety of sports: Athletics, gymnastics, swimming, table tennis, tennis, volleyball, badminton, martial arts, archery and shooting. In addition, there are accommodation facilities for more than 450 athletes, both from Japan and from other nations, who are invited to a training camps as sparring partners for the national athletes and teams.
Japanese Olympic Committee – https://www.joc.or.jp/english/ntc/jiss.html
Veerle De Bosscher, Simon Shibli, Hans Westerbeek & Maarten Van Bottenburg: Successful Elite Sport Policies. An international comparison of the Sports Policy factors Leading to International Sporting Success (SPLISS 2.0) in 15 nations (Meyer & Meyer Sport, 2015).