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Female Athletes Shine at Sydney

November 30, 2000
Naoko Takahashi smiles after winning the women's marathon. (Jiji)

The 27th Olympic Games were held from September 15 to October 1 in Sydney, Australia, and were watched with keen interest by the people of Japan, who have long been passionate followers of the event. The Japanese national team came away from the Games with 18 medals: five gold, eight silver, and five bronze. Though falling short of its team goal of eight gold medals, Japan improved upon its disappointing performance at the previous Games in Atlanta (14 medals: three gold, six silver, and five bronze) and managed to put a halt to a long-continuing decline in performance. Women were the stars of the Japanese team. Whereas at the previous games the Japanese male and female athletes each came away with an equal number of medals, this time it was the female athletes who stole the show, taking home 13 of the team's 18 medals.

Marathon Triumph
Perhaps the biggest hero of the games was Naoko Takahashi, winner of the women's marathon. In winning the event, Takahashi became the first Japanese woman ever to win a gold medal in athletics and the first Japanese of either gender to win an athletics gold in the postwar era. The race was followed avidly in Japan, raking in an amazing 60% viewer rating. After the race, a grinning Takahashi said, "It was fun running that 42 kilometers," and the excitement over her victory continued even after her return to Japan. In recognition of her outstanding performance, the Japanese government presented Takahashi with the People's Honor Award.

Third Time Lucky for Yawara-Chan
Takahashi shared the spotlight with Ryoko Tamura, known affectionately in Japan as "Yawara-chan" after a popular judo cartoon heroine, who made her third Olympic appearance in the Judo competition. Having come up just short of the gold in the previous two Games, settling for silver medals at both, Tamura expressed her determination prior to the Sydney Games, announcing, "At best, gold; at worst, gold," and then made good on her proclamation by winning the women's 48-kilogram weight class in spectacular fashion. The victory lifted the cloud off of her previous frustrating experiences, and Tamura tearfully summed up her emotions, saying, "I was finally able to meet the 'first love' for which I have been searching for eight years."

Tamura, like Takahashi, threw out a ceremonial first pitch at a games in Japan's pro baseball championship series and has taken part in numerous other events, but her desire to succeed in her sport has not diminished: "My next goal is to go for my fifth straight victory at the world championships."

Men Shine in Judo Competition
While the performance by Japan's male Olympians paled in comparison to that of the women, interest in the men's soccer team, which reached the final eight, was as strong as ever. Matches involving the Japanese team gained TV viewer ratings in the 40% range and played a major part in boosting interest in the Games.

Three of the men's gold medals were earned in the judo competition, where Japan's judoka showed their mettle in a sport that originated in their home country. One particularly moving moment was during the awards ceremony following the 100-kilogram finals, when champion Kosei Inoue raised a picture of his recently deceased mother from the victor's platform.

This past September, Japan established a sports-promotion policy, which includes a plan to double the number of medals earned over the next 10 years. Those connected to the sports world recognize the importance of today's efforts to carry interest aroused from the Sydney Games over into the 21st century.

Medals earned by Japanese athletes are listed by event below.

Swimming (women)
Two silver medals (400-meter individual medley; 100-meter backstroke)
Two bronze medals (200-meter backstroke; 400-meter medley relay)
Synchronized swimming
Two silver medals (duet; team)
Judo (men)
Three gold medals (60 kilograms; 81 kilograms; 100 kilograms)
One silver medal (over-100 kilograms)
Judo (women)
One gold medal (48 kilograms)
One silver medal (52 kilograms)
Two bronze medals (57 kilograms; over-78 kilograms)
Track and Field (women)
One gold medal (marathon)
Wrestling (Greco-Roman)
One silver medal (69 kilograms)
Tae Kwon Do (women)
One bronze medal (67 kilograms)
Silver medal

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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.