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Japan Gears Up for Olympic Comeback

August 17, 2000
The opening ceremony for the Sydney Olympics--scheduled to take place on September 15, 2000--may mark the start of a sporting comeback for Japan. In 1996 Japan suffered a crushing defeat at the Atlanta Olympics, collecting only three gold medals. But with 260 Japanese athletes set to compete at the Sydney Olympics, the nation's sights are set higher this time. Japan's goal is to mark the first Olympics of the millennium by winning eight gold medals.

Pivotal Players
Some of the key players are Japan's judo experts. These include Shin'ichi Shinohara and Ryoko Tamura, both of whom won gold medals at the 1999 World Judo Championships in Birmingham, Britain, a tournament that was dominated by Japan. Shinohara is a strong contender in the men's heavyweight (100 kg and over) division, while Tamura competes in the women's extra lightweight (under 48 kg) class and has won four consecutive World Championships. They and other judoka are now gearing up for the Sydney Olympics. Naturally, the honor of representing Japan--the country where judo originated--is working to their advantage. The hope is that these judoka will reap five gold medals for Japan.

Expectations are also mounting for a gold medal in the women's marathon. The Japanese contenders, said to be the world's strongest trio, are Naoko Takahashi, Ari Ichihashi, and Eri Yamaguchi. All three will compete in the grueling 42.2-km (26-mile) race through downtown Sydney.

Also attracting attention is the women's swim team, which is in better shape than ever before. The team boasts three world-class backstroke specialists--Mai Nakamura in the 100-meter and Miki Nakao and Tomoko Hagiwara both in the 200-meter. Masami Tanaka, meanwhile, is fighting for world records she has already come close to breaking in the women's 100- and 200-meter breast stroke.

But dreams of gold do not end here. Japan has a chance of winning medals in synchronized swimming, both duet and team. The Japanese team has won bronze medals at four consecutive Olympics. Now, with Miya Tachibana heading a strong team, their ambition is to go one better and take home a silver.

A Bifurcated Baseball Team
Japan's Olympic baseball team cannot be overlooked. 2000 is the first year that pro baseball players have been allowed to participate in the Olympics. Even so, there are not as many pro players on the Japanese team as one might think, because of a dispute between Japan's two major leagues as to whether the best players should stay in Japan or go to Sydney. On the one hand is the Pacific League, which advocates sending its top players to the Olympics, and on the other is the Central League, which wants to hold onto stars for the playoffs scheduled around the same time. Nevertheless, the Japanese Olympic team--a mix of amateurs and professionals--is hoping for a fifth consecutive medal showing at the 2000 Olympics. It has already signed on Seibu Lions' star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka as well as other pros and, despite a lineup that is less stellar than first hoped, still has a good chance of coming out on top. Japan's main challengers will be Cuba, South Korea, and the United States.

Rising Stars
Another event to capture attention in Japan is men's soccer. Japan's team of young and talented athletes features key player Hidetoshi Nakata, who plays in the prestigious Serie A in Italy. Though it did not win a medal, the Japanese team pulled off a miracle during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics by defeating Brazil in a preliminary match in Miami. Phillipe Troussier, the French coach of the Japanese team, has vowed that Japan will win a soccer medal at Sydney--the first since 1968, when the team won a bronze in Mexico City.

Other crucial players for Japan include Reika Utsugi, a naturalized citizen from China who will play for the women's softball team, and gymnast Naoya Tsukahara, following in the footsteps of his father, Mitsuo Tsukahara, who was famous for his "moonsault." Finally, Yoko Inada, a pistol shooter, and Yukie Nakayama, who will take aim in the double trap event, both have the potential to win medals in women's shooting.

Then, too, there is always a chance Japan will win medals in some of the new events scheduled to debut at the Sydney Olympics. These include keirin cycling, trampoline gymnastics, and women's weight lifting.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.