JAPAN AT THE 2012 SUMMER OLYMPICS IN LONDON


JAPAN AT THE 2012 SUMMER OLYMPICS IN LONDON

Japan won 38 medals at the London Olympics, its most ever. It won 7 golds, 14 silvers and 17 bronze medals. By comparison the U.S. won 104 total medals (46 golds, 29 silvers and 29 bronze medals). Although the number of medals for Japan exceeded the 37 won at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Japan had hoped to take home 15 to 18 gold medals and be ranked among the top five nations in the gold medal standings. From the start of the first full day of competition on July 28 to the day the Games closed Japan won at least one medal each day. [Ibid]

Though Japan fell far short of its gold medal goal, “it did win medals from a wider range of events in London. Japan was expected to win medals in swimming and wrestling. It won 11 medals in swimming, its highest number after World War II, and six in wrestling. Japanese competitors won their first-ever medals in badminton and table tennis, while the women's soccer team and a female weightlifter mounted the podium for the first time. Japanese teams also snagged medals in archery and fencing.[Source: Makoto Mitsuhashi and Yuji Kondo, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 14, 2012]

Makoto Mitsuhashi and Yuji Kondo wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Despite its impressive medal haul in London, the number of gold medals was far short of its initial goal. The biggest factor was the failure to win as many gold medals as expected in judo, a sport considered a Japanese specialty. The judo national team managed to win only one gold medal, while about half of Japan's gold medals have been won in the sport since 1992. "Unless an athlete is particularly talented, it's virtually impossible to win a gold medal," Japan Olympic Committee Vice President Tomiaki Fukuda said. "If an athlete doesn't have something really special, he or she can't win."

At a press conference at the end of the London games, Haruki Uemura, head of the Japanese Olympic delegation, said: "I'm generally pleased. This is the first Olympic Games in which Japan won medals every day. Our athletes did really well." Asked why Japan managed to win medals in many events in which it had been unsuccessful in previous Games, Uemura pointed to the Ajinomoto National Training Center in Kita Ward, Tokyo, a fully equipped residential type facility. "We were able to make full use of the center and this helped produce tangible results," he said. In regard to the small number of gold medals won at London, Uemura said he would carefully examine the outcome of the London Olympics. "Other countries have become far stronger than we had expected. I think we could have done more," he said. [Ibid]

Before the London Olympics started officials targeted at least 15 golds.“If our athletes give all they have, it will be possible for them to get 18-20 gold medals,” Uemura said. Uemura’s optimism is inspired partly by Japan’s women’s World Cup soccer win last July, which provided relief from the misery of March’s quake, tsunami and nuclear tragedy which left 19,000 people dead. “Techniques will make up for physical disadvantages,” he said, referring to the ‘Nadeshiko’ team’s surprise victory over the taller United States team in the final. [Source: AFP, July 2, 2012]

Women’s soccer has now joined Japan’s traditional areas of strength: judo, wrestling, gymnastics and swimming. Uemura also expects Japan to medal in athletics, sailing and shooting. “We must let the people see our fighting attitude after the unprecedented disaster,” said Uemura, head of the All-Japan Judo Federation. “We hope to bring courage to the disaster area by showing Japan’s underlying strength.” A strong performance in London is seen as vital in raising public support for the 2020 bid, after tepid enthusiasm was cited as a reason when Tokyo lost out to Rio de Janeiro in bidding for the 2016 Games. [Ibid]

Japan Olympians Driven by Memories of the March 2011 Tsunami

AFP reported: “ Fencer Kenta Chida has lost his best friend to a tsunami, cyclist Kazunari Watanabe's family has been split up by the Fukushima nuclear crisis and world shooting champion Tomoyuki Matsuda owes thanks to fellow disaster survivors. Such personal experiences may push them further at the London Olympics as they hope to hang on and cheer up Japan's northeast region ravaged by the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster 16 months ago. [Source: AFP July 19, 2012]

Of Japan's 293 London-bound Olympians, one tenth are directly related to Tohoku by having been born and/or schooled there. Matsuda, who won the 50m pistol and the 10m air pistol at the 2010 world championships, has no background links to Tohoku but experienced the catastrophe himself. "I have been given strength by seeing how the disaster area is recovering," said the 36-year-old police officer from Yokohama, who finished eighth in the 50m pistol at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "I want to get a medal and give strength back to the disaster area." He was practicing at a firing range ahead of the national championships in the Pacific coast city of Ishinomaki when a 9.0-magnitude quake struck offshore and unleashed monster waves on March 11, 2011.

He evacuated to a nursing home for the aged and spent a sleepless night with no lighting and heating as the tsunami swallowed everything in the city and left 4,000 people dead or missing. "I wasn't sure about what could have happened to me," Matsuda said, recalling how he felt when he watched horrifying scenes on television on his way home, 400 kilometres (250 miles) away. He won the 50m pistol and the 10m air pistol at the World Cup in Sydney only a few weeks later, believing that "my duty is to shoot."

Chida learned that his hometown, the major fishing port of Kesennuma, was devastated by the tsunami when the fencer was on the road in Germany. His best friend from boyhood, Satoru Onodera, was drowned. Chida finished a disappointing 11th in foil fencing at Beijing 2008 when his teammate Yuki Ota grabbed the silver.It was Onodera who consoled Chida over drinks when the fencer visited his hometown after Beijing. "It will be your turn in London," Chida quoted the friend as telling him. "Go get a medal no matter what next time." Chida, 27 next month, struggled back to form and finished second at the Asian championships four months after the tragedy. "I may become able to freely show my gratitude for my best friend and my longing for my hometown only when I hold a medal in my hand in London," he said. [Ibid]

Watanabe, who finished 12th in the cycling individual sprint in Beijing, lived 3.5 kilometres (two miles) from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant with his wife, parents, grandmother and the family of his older sister. When the quake and tsunami crippled the plant's cooling systems and sparked reactor meltdowns, the 28-year-old professional keirin racer was at a training camp in Tokyo ahead of the world championships. Radiation has since forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate from within 20 kilometres of the plant and settle somewhere else, not knowing when they can come home. Watanabe's extended family has since lived apart in three different places as about 7,000 people from their town, Futaba, remained scattered across the country. He placed fifth in the keirin and fourth in the team sprint at the world track cycling championships last April, boosting his Olympic medal hopes and giving himself a new role for his hometown."I will bring a medal back this time and have a victory celebration with you," Watanabe told a send-off ceremony with about 150 former neighbours. Futaba mayor Katsutaka Idogawa said: "I thank Mr. Watanabe for being a driving force to unite the town which has been divided in many ways."

Coaching and Government Support Helped Japan in 2012 Summer Olympics in London

Some attributed Japan’s strong performance in London to coaching and government support. Makoto Mitsuhashi and Yuji Kondo wrote in Yomiuri Shimbun,“In events in which Japan won many medals, the athletes should be grateful to the government for the support that allowed them to make thorough preparations. Many excellent instructors were on hand to help train swimmers around the country. The top-class swimmers then headed for a training camp at the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences in Tokyo. After their swimming styles were scientifically analyzed, the swimmers were able to prepare more intensely for the Games. [Ibid]

Nobutaka Taguchi, a swimming gold medalist at the 1972 Munich Olympics and currently professor at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, said, "Thanks to enthusiastic and strict training from local instructors, the swimmers were able to improve their abilities further by scientifically fine-tuning their training."

In team events for table tennis, archery and fencing, in which athletes compete individually with other members as a team, solidarity was considered important. Yuki Ota, who won a silver in the men's team foil in the Games, said, "I think Japanese athletes work together well at team events as we tend to think of others on the team." Winning a large number of medals in team events could be the way to go for Japan in future Olympic Games. [Ibid]

As part of the multi-support project, a facility to support Japanese athletes competing at the Games was established at a London location about a 10-minute walk from Olympic Village. The "Multi-support house," which cost about 540 million yen, houses various equipment designed to help athletes' recover from fatigue, including a bathing facility where athletes can take cold and warm baths, as well as a carbonated bath. About 40 staffers are stationed at the center to assist the athletes, for instance by analyzing information on rivals and providing Japanese dishes that can be chosen based on nutritional values. [Ibid]

Japanese Government for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London

Wakako Yuki and Nobuaki Ono, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 29, 2012: Funding for top athletes has jumped from 200 million yen to 2.75 billion yen in the four years to fiscal 2012. The centerpiece of such efforts is the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry's "multi-support project." The main purpose of the project is to intensively support athletes who could win medals at the Games. The money spent on the project rose from 200 million yen in fiscal 2008--the year the project started--to 2.75 billion yen in fiscal 2012. Each year, the ministry reviews events covered by the project based on the performance of athletes, such as the results of international competitions. In fiscal 2012, 17 summer events were chosen to be supported under the scheme, including swimming, judo and women's soccer. [Source: Wakako Yuki and Nobuaki Ono, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 29, 2012]

Out of a budget earmarked by the government to strengthen various sportsa large portion of the project's funds was spent on indirect support, such as improving athletes' nutrition, keeping them healthy and analyzing information about rival competitors. This helped Japanese athletes win many silver and bronze medals. [Ibid]

After the Basic Law on Sports was enacted in 2011, the government launched full-fledged efforts to strengthen various sports. The project is mainly run by the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences (JISS), based in Kita Ward, Tokyo. The institute supports athletes in various ways, such as helping them manage their nutrition and physical condition. The support also includes medical care and performance strategy, by gathering and analyzing information on their rivals. For example, when the men's gymnastic team conducted a training session in Arques in northern France this month, the JISS sent four officials in charge of nutrition and information strategy to support the team. [Ibid]

Two of the four have national qualification as senior nutritionists. The support staff purchased food in Japan and used the kitchen of the hotel where the gymnasts were staying to prepare Japanese dishes for them, such as nikujaga (boiled potatoes and beef), somen noodles and inarizushi (vinegar rice in fried tofu). "I often lose my appetite when staying at hotels because there's little variety in the food they serve," said Kazuhito Tanaka, captain of the men's London gymnastics team. "However, thanks to the [nutritionists'] support, I was able to have well-balanced meals at the hotel, which freed me from thinking about weight control. The meals also prevented me from eating unnecessary snacks," Tanaka said. [Ibid]

JISS also has collected information on gymnasts who could thwart Japan's medal hopes and analyzed the composition and difficulty of their performances. The institution even analyzed scoring trends among judges. JISS has archived more than 100,000 video files of Japanese and foreign gymnasts at Olympic qualifiers and other competitions on their "SMART" video database. Japanese gymnasts can access the database via the Internet through electronic tablets distributed by the JISS. Gold-medal favorite Kohei Uchimura said he has watched videos about a thousand times a month on average. JISS also has commissioned the University of Tsukuba to create equipment that could improve athletes' performance. For the London Olympics, the university developed custom-made fencing gloves as well as a machine for practicing table tennis that can add various spins to balls. [Ibid]

However, government subsidies provided to individual sports organizations via the JOC totaled only 2.5 billion yen, fiscal 2012. It was the first time the subsidy fell below the money spent on the multi-support project, showing the government's willingness to be more directly engaged in improving the results of athletes competing on the international stage. JOC Secretary General Noriyuki Ichihara has repeatedly stressed the need to spend far more funds on athletes' training. "The multisupport project is important, but increasing spending on athletes themselves is crucial," he said. To develop internationally competitive athletes, such as gymnast Kohei Uchimura and wrestlers Kaori Icho and Saori Yoshida, it will be necessary to nurture coaches and provide promising athletes with steady training and guidance from an early age. While the multisupport project proved highly effective in London, certain limitations were apparent. [Ibid]

Support for Japanese Olympic Athletes Shifts from Private to Public Sector

It costs about $200,000 a year to cover a world-class swimmer's trips to overseas competitions and other activities. With all corporations tightening their belts due to the global economic downturn, it has become increasingly to come up with such money from private sources.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Traditionally, Japanese athletes and the nation's sports in general have been supported mainly by private enterprises. But amid the ongoing economic doldrums, many corporations have shut down their sports clubs, taking a less active role in the field. Weakened corporate support has sparked fears that the development of Japan's athletes and sports community could stumble unless the government intervenes to provide support and promotion. However, with the nation continuing to struggle to recover economically from last year's earthquake and tsunami, increased government expenditure on the training of athletes could be viewed as misplaced. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 29, 2012]

Tenzo Okumura, vice minister of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, emphasized the importance of sports to the country. "Sports encourage people to have dreams, and they deepen community bonds. They also help promote good health and reduce medical costs for the elderly," he said. "With a sense of helplessness weighing on society, it is especially important for people to get some brightness and inspiration from the great performances of Japan's athletes."

Inspirational Performance by Japan's Female Athletes at the London Olympics

Japanese women did well at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “ The excellent performances of Japan's female athletes have been particularly memorable at the London Olympic Games, which are now in their closing phase. Many people must have been cheered to see them competing boldly and fearlessly with strong, world-class opponents. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 13, 2012]

"Amazing" is the word for wrestlers Kaori Icho and Saori Yoshida, who became the first Japanese women ever to win three straight Olympic golds. We express our heartfelt admiration for the great effort Icho and Yoshida made to maintain their top-level abilities after winning at the 2004 Athens Games. We were also moved by Hitomi Obara's life path on the way to capturing an Olympic gold medal in spite of her earlier decision to retire from wrestling. [Ibid]

Japanese wrestling has long addressed the task of nurturing strong female athletes by making the most of the know-how accumulated through training male wrestlers. Japan has taken part in all female wrestling world championships since the first competition in 1987. The dominant position of Japan's female wrestlers in the world today can be attributed to their efforts to strengthen themselves through years of rigorous international competition.

Women have performed outstandingly not only in individual events but also in team competitions at the London Olympics. The Nadeshiko Japan soccer team is certainly representative of the splendid achievements of Japan's female athletes. Even though they fell short of topping the world again after their World Cup triumph, they should of course be proud of winning the silver medal in London. Opponents from around the world had thoroughly studied Nadeshiko's style of play. Female athletes at the London Games have also impressed us with their superb performances in such team events as table tennis, archery, badminton doubles and volleyball. [Ibid]

Half Million Japanese Cheer Olympics Medalists at Ginza Parade

In late August 2012, about two weeks after the Olympics ended, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Buses and cars carrying Japanese Olympic medalists drive past an estimated 500,000 spectators during a parade through Tokyo's Ginza district Monday. Cheered on by an estimated 500,000 people, 71 medalists from the London Olympics took part in a parade down the main street of Tokyo's Ginza shopping district Monday. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 21, 2012]

The medalists included Saori Yoshida, who was the flag bearer for the Japanese delegation at the Games and won her third-straight Olympic gold in the 55-kilogram women's wrestling division; Kohei Uchimura, gold medalist in men's gymnastics individual all-around; and members of the Nadeshiko Japan women's soccer team that won the silver.

Starting at 11 a.m., the parade inched along Chuo-dori avenue for about one kilometer from the Ginza-dori Guchi intersection to the Ginza 8-chome intersection. The athletes sat in two convertibles and five open-topped buses on a sweltering day. This was the first time the Japanese Olympic Committee has held a victory parade for Olympic athletes. Some spectators had been waiting since Sunday night to get a good spot from which to cheer the athletes. [Ibid]

Japan's Female Soccer Team Flies Economy While the Men Team Flies in Business Class

On the flying arrangements of Japan’s soccer teams to the London Olympics, Justin McCurry wrote in The Guardian: “They are world champions and brought hope to a nation reeling from a natural disaster, but Japan's female Olympic footballers had to make do with economy class seats during their gruelling flight to Europe this week, while the less celebrated men's team relaxed in business class. "I guess it should have been the other way around," Homare Sawa , the team's star player, told Japanese media. "Even just in terms of age, we are senior," she joked. [Source: Justin McCurry, The Guardian, July 19, 2012]

Sawa, 33, who will be taking part in her fourth Olympics, noted that the team had been awarded business class seats after they won the world cup in Germany. That proved to be an exception: the Japan football association [JFA] has since reinstated the practice of putting female players in economy class, although they were given a little extra leg room in premium economy during the flight to Paris, thanks to their status as potential medalists. [Ibid]

The team received a heroes' welcome on their return from Germany last summer. Their victory was a rare bright spot for the people of Japan, who were still reeling from the 11 March tsunami, in which almost 20,000 people died, and the Fukushima nuclear accident. Japan's Olympic committee pointed out that most of the country's Olympic athletes, as amateurs, are required to fly economy, with exception made for judoka and other physically large competitors. [Ibid]

Well-known athletes often get round the rule by upgrading with help from their sponsors, but that isn't an option for players in team sports aiming to preserve the esprit de corps. The JFA said the men's football team had been given business class seats since the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 in view of their professional status. [Ibid]

Sawa, who won the golden boot as top scorer in Germany and was named Fifa women's world player of the year in 2011, suggested that the team's best chance of securing a more comfortable flight back to Tokyo would be to win gold in London. "When we won the world cup, our seats were changed to business class for our return flight," she said. "I hope we can produce a good result again and be treated the same way." They ended up with a silver but still got to fly back to Japan in business class.

Genki Dean among Japan's 1st-Time Olympians

Ken Marantz wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Javelin thrower Genki Dean officially made the cut for the London Olympics, where he will be the lone member of the Japanese squad with what might be considered a home advantage. Dean, the son of a British father and Japanese mother, is among 35 athletes who will make their Olympic debuts at this summer's London Games.” In the event Dean made it to the finals but failed to get a medal. [Source: Ken Marantz, Daily Yomiuri, June 12, 2012]

Dean produced one of the highlights of Japan’s track and field qualifying meet when he ended 2009 world bronze medalist Yukifumi Murakami's 12-year hold on the national title. The 20-year-old Dean, the 2010 world junior silver medalist, set a meet record with a toss of 84.03 meters, edging Murakami by just eight centimeters. Dean's selection was also a formality, as he had met the federation's criteria of winning the national title and having met the Olympic "A" qualifying standard. [Ibid]

Other first-time Olympians will be Hitomi Niiya, who won her first national title in the women's 5,000, and Mika Yoshikawa, a first-time champion in the 10,000. Long-time star Kayako Fukushi was relegated to second place in both races, but was picked for her third Olympics. Chisato Fukushima completed the women's sprint double and will be entered in both the 100 and 200. Fukushima made history when she ran the 100 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the first Japanese in the event since 1956. [Ibid]

71-Year-Old Hiroshi Hoketsu, Almost the World Oldest Olympian

Seventy-one-year-old equestrian rider Hiroshi Hoketsu was the oldest competitor at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. After the games were over the Guiness Book of Records included him for having the longest Olympic career. Hoketsu made his Olympic debut in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. The oldest Olympian is Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who won a silver medal at the 1920 Antwerp Games at 72. It was his sixth medal in three games. In London, Hoketsu finished 17th out of 24 riders. Some say the big round of applause he recived spooked his horse.

Nesha Starcvic of AP wrote: He is not riding off into the sunset. Hiroshi Hoketsu is simply riding, and that's just how he likes it. Hoketsu first went to the Olympics in 1964 when he was 23 and the games were in his native Tokyo. Now nearly 71, Hoketsu will be going to the Olympics again – not to watch, but to compete. He qualified for the individual dressage competition on Japan's Olympic team. He will be Japan's oldest Olympian again, reprising his role from the Beijing Games four years ago. [Source: Nesha Starcvic , AP, March 5, 2012]

"This time, I am very pleased to have qualified, particularly because my horse had a little accident last year," Hoketsu said by phone to The Associated Press. "She was not in very good condition." The horse is Whisper, a 15-year-old mare. "A little bit old, but still a good age," Hoketsu said. The same seems true for the rider as well. "We didn't try for the team event," he said from his home in Aachen in western Germany. But he qualified for the individual at an international dressage competition in France last week. Before Hoketsu, the oldest Japanese Olympic athlete was equestrian Kikuko Inoue, who rode dressage in Seoul at 63.

London will be Hoketsu's third Olympics, with his 40th place in the show jumping in his native Tokyo in 1964 marking an inauspicious beginning. After working for Johnson & Johnson, Hoketsu retired eight years ago. He moved to Aachen because the owner and trainer of the horse he was riding at the time was also based there. Hoketsu competed at age 67 – 44 years after his debut in Tokyo—at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he was the oldest athlete in any event and the oldest to appear for Japan in any Olympics. He finished ninth in the dressage team event and 35th in the individual competition. "In London, I hope to do a little bit better," he said. "I didn't do that well in Beijing because they had that big screen in the hall and my horse just hates to see that moving screen."

Hoketsu told AFP, "I can feel I am still improving, if only little by little. This has motivated me quite a lot to continue my equestrian career. I may probably quit right away if I feel I'm starting to get worse or I could not get any better," Hoketsu added he still undertakes 40 minutes of muscle training every day, including 30 sit-ups. [Source: AFP, Shigemi Sato, April 12, 2012]

He said he hasn't set a retirement age for himself. "I will go on as long as it is possible -- physically and as far as circumstances permit." Hoketsu said he may compete at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro when he will be 75, to become the oldest ever Olympian -- but if he did it would be without his mount, chestnut mare Whisper, who is already mature for a horse at the age of 15. Hoketsu said he could go to Rio on "condition of multiple ifs" including if he can find the right replacement for Whisper. When Hoketsu competed astride Whisper -- 67 years and four months. He finished 34th in dre

"There is something about the Olympics. There is something that has always attracted me to the Olympics," said the 168-centimetre (five foot six inch) rider, who has lived in Aachen since his retirement in 2003 as president of a US-affiliated drugs firm in Tokyo. After his Olympic debut in Tokyo, he switched from show jumping to dressage, one of the more stately Olympic sports, which is often called horse ballet and requires relatively little physical strength. Hoketsu was picked as a substitute for 1984 Los Angeles Games, and he narrowly missed out on the 1988 Seoul Olympics when his horse encountered quarantine problems. At the 2010 world championships in Lexington, Kentucky, the Japanese finished 31st in the second stage and failed to reach the final "Grand Prix Freestyle" contest among the top 15. [Ibid]

Despite his relatively carefree daily diet with a nightly bottle of wine, he has managed to stay fit. His weight has remained at 62kg (137lbs) since he graduated from university. But Hoketsu admitted his age was showing at times. "I forget things," he lamented. "I started to wear glasses about a year ago to read newspapers," he said. "I am competing for the sake of myself. But if people out there, especially old men, are encouraged as I am doing well internationally at the age of 71, I couldn't be happier."

Women's Volleyball Wins First Medal in 28 years

The Japan women's volleyball team won the bronze medal at the London Olympics beating South Korea 3-0 in the third-place playoff. It was Japan's first medal in volleyball since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where it also won the bronze. The final was a reprise of the 2008 Beijing Olympics final, and Brazil won back-to-back gold by beating the United States 3-1.[Source: Hiroyuki Shimoyama, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 13, 2012]

Hiroyuki Shimoyama wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Japan and South Korea were neck-and-neck throughout the match--no set was won by more than four points. However, Japan scored at crucial moments to sweep its Asian rival. Ace spiker Saori Kimura was jubilant after the match, as Japan had lost to South Korea in the Olympic qualifying tournament in May. "Today I was able to use everything I've learned in the past," said Kimura, 25. "We've avenged the loss [to South Korea] and won the bronze medal--I'm really happy."

Before the bronze medal match, most people's attention was focused on two star players--Kimura and South Korea's Kim Yeon Koung. However, a player who was mainly used as a substitute during the competition stole the spotlight from both of them--Saori Sakoda was the top scorer of the game with 23 points to Kim's 22 and Kimura's 11. Coach Masayoshi Manabe had most frequently picked Yukiko Ebata to start in Sakoda's position through the semifinal match. However, Manabe chose Sakoda to start in the third-place playoff, as Sakoda had performed well in past matches against South Korea.His decision paid off. Sakoda, 24, energized the team from the first set through her trademark back row attacks. Sakoda's is only 175 centimeters tall, 10 centimeters shorter than Kimura. However, Sakoda can reach up to 305 centimeters when spiking a ball, higher than Kimura. [Ibid] In long rallies, Sakoda frequently saved her team by smashing difficult tosses to South Korea's floor. [Ibid]

Setter Yoshie Takeshita, who is known for rarely showing her emotions, burst into tears after Japan won the final point and hugged her teammates. Takeshita, 34, has been on the national team for about 10 years in total, and overcame the bitter experience of being left off the squad due to her height, which is 159 centimeters. She once retired after the team failed to qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. "I've never been this happy. I got a medal," Takeshita said. [Ibid]

In the semifinals, Japan lost to Brazil, which defeated Russia 3-2 in quarterfinal play. To reach an Olympic semifinals for the first time since 1988 Japan beat China in a thrilling quarterfinal that went to the full five sets. China had one match point in the fifth set, but Japan successfully won the next point and went on win the 133-minute match with Hitomi Nakamichi's ace. Ace spiker Saori Kimura, who competed in the past three Olympics, said mental strength had been the key to Japan's victory. "It was an amazing match. But we had a strong will to win until the end," she said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 9, 2012]

Japan won gold at the 1964 Tokyo and 1976 Montreal Olympics. But it has not won any medal since the 1984 Los Angeles Games, when it won the bronze. The Japan women's team was eliminated in straight sets in the quarterfinals of the previous two Olympic Games. [Ibid]

Nadeshiko's Wins Silver Medal at the 2012 London Olympics

The Japanese women’s soccer team had to settle for a silver medal after losing in the finals to the gold medals winners, the U.S. women's football team, avenging its World Cup defeat with a 2-1 victory over Japan. Carli Lloyd scored in the eighth and 54th minutes for the Americans, who lost to the Japanese in penalty kicks at last year's World Cup final. Yuki Ogimi scored in the 63rd for Japan. [Source: AP, August 10, 2012]

AP reported: “Japan played well and showed some of the same poise it had in the World Cup final against the Americans in 2011. It had more than enough chances to beat the United States for the second straight time in a major women's football final. But it squandered too many scoring chances at Wembley in its 2-1 loss to the now three-time defending Olympic champions. Japan twice hit the crossbar and missed on several opportunities from close range. And in one of its last chances of the match, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo made a brilliant save off a shot by Mana Iwabuchi in the 83rd minute. [Ibid]

Some of the Japanese dropped to the ground after the final whistle, and many had tears streaking down their faces as they left the field. Coach Norio Sasaki huddled the players near midfield and they went around bowing to the large Japanese crowd at Wembley. The team got a standing ovation for the 80,203 fans, the largest ever to watch a football game at the Olympics. [Ibid]

Japan’s best result before that was a fourth-place finish in 2008 in Beijing, when it lost to the U.S. in the semifinals. They reached the gold-medal match by eliminating France in the semifinals, and a round earlier they got past Brazil, silver-medalist in the last two Olympics. [Ibid]

Japan’s semifinal match against France was one of the most thrilling soccer games at the 2012 games, with goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto blacking a number of shots by the French team. Akemi Ishii wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: Fukumoto stands just 1.65 meters tall, but she made one of the biggest contributions to Japan's nail-biting defeat of France that has given Nadeshiko a shot at the gold medal. She punched, parried, blocked and caught a withering barrage of shots from the French team in the semifinal Monday, a performance that left coach Norio Sasaki looking for the superlatives. "That little goalie Fukumoto looks like a deity for us," he said after the 2-1 victory. [Source: Akemi Ishii, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 8, 2012]

France's surge started right after Japan scored to go ahead 2-0 in the 49th minute. Despite working hard in defense, Japan conceded a goal in the 76th minute. Three minutes later, Japan teetered on the brink as France was awarded a penalty kick. Fortunately for Nadeshiko, the kick missed and Japan retained its lead. France's relentless attack continued after that. Fukumoto, 28, fended off their attacks, punching crosses clear and making some catches at full stretch. France peppered Japan's goal with 27 shots. [Ibid]

Fukumoto's performance at the London Games marks a turnaround from what she says was a humiliating experience at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At Beijing, Japan finished fourth. During the semifinal and the bronze-medal match, goals were scored over Fukumoto's head. Many fans blamed her for the losses. "A short goalkeeper is no good," she often heard after returning to Japan In autumn that year, Fukumoto tore her left Achilles' tendon during a game and had to undergo rehabilitation for six months. [Ibid]

After overcoming her injury, Fukumoto was a substitute goalkeeper when Nadeshiko Japan reached soccer's pinnacle by winning the World Cup in Germany last summer. Ayumi Kaihori, 25, who was three years younger and five centimeters taller than her, was chosen in the starting XI because of the wide area she can cover. [Ibid]

Kaihori performed well, pulling off a string of fine saves and helping the team to the championship. Fukumoto regained her starting spot on the team for Olympics, a reward for her dedication and effort. She has given her all for the benefit of the team. Her fighting spirit was clear in the excellent saves she has made from the first game of the preliminary round. [Ibid]

Japan Wins First Table Tennis Medal, at London: a Silver

Japan won its first-ever medal in table tennis Tuesday, but failed to snare the gold after being beaten by China 3-0 in the women's team final. The women's table tennis team of Ai Fukuhara, Kasumi Ishikawa and Sayaka Hirano made history by beating Singapore the Sunday's semifinal, but China was too strong in the final. With Fukuhara and Ishikawa losing their singles matches 3-1 and 3-0, respectively, the Japanese team's path to the gold became more difficult. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 9, 2012]

Although Ishikawa and Hirano played tenaciously to the bitter end in the doubles that followed, they were unable to get past the great wall of China. After the final, Fukuhara, 23, said: "I did the best I could at the Olympics. This silver medal is the result of it, so I'm so happy to win it." First-time Olympian Ishikawa, 19, said, "The Chinese team was so strong, that's how I feel now," while veteran Hirano, 27, said, "Right now, I feel half mortified and half happy."

The silver medals in London mark milestones for the three players--particularly 19-year-old Ishikawa, who will continue her professional career more independently when she turns 20. On the night when Ishikawa secured a medal by winning the semifinal, her mother, Kumi, said: "She doesn't need me anymore. I can send her forth with peace of mind." In the past few years, Kumi looked after her daughter as a coach and manager. [Ibid]

Archery Medals for Japan at the 2012 London Olympics

Archer Takaharu Furukawa won a silver medal at the 2012 London Games. Furukawa, 27, defeated Rick van der Ven of the Netherlands 6-5 in the semifinal of the men's individual archery competition following a shoot-off. He was beaten 7-1 by South Korea's Oh Jin Hyek in the final. "I didn't find the matches particularly tough," Furukawa said after the final. "I let go of the idea that these matches are special only because I'm competing in the Olympics. I was hoping to make it into the top eight. After that I wanted to enjoy the competition," he added. [Ibid]

A few days later, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “ Japan came from behind to win its first-ever Olympic medal in women's archery with a bronze in the team event, while South Korea beat China to capture gold for the seventh straight time. Japan's 209-207 victory over Russia is also its first Olympic medal in any team archery event. The win was achieved through the joint efforts of the three team members--Ren Hayakawa, 24, an employee at Sasebo High School of Commerce in Nagasaki Prefecture; Miki Kanie, 23, of Miki House Co.; and Kaori Kawanaka, 20, a junior at Kinki University. Makoto Mitsuhashi / Yomiuri Shimbun Sportswriter

"I have nothing to say other than I'm happy that we could get a medal," Kawanaka said as she shared her joy with her teammates. It was a thrilling competition and it was unclear who the winner would be until the final shot was taken. The three Japanese players hugged each other the moment the last arrow by a Russian archer missed the 10-point area. Prior to the bronze medal game, Kanie told the other two, "Let's end the game with a smile." Japan fell four points behind midway through the game but pulled in front at the end. "As there was still hope we could win a bronze, I tried to forget about losing [to South Korea] in the semifinal and tried to think about shooting well enough to get a high score," Kanie said. [Ibid]

The three behave as though they are sisters. Hayakawa, naturalized from South Korea in 2009, is the leader of the three. Kanie acts as an icebreaker, while Kawanaka is earnest and behaves dependably despite being the youngest of the group. Hayakawa was the first to make the national team, followed by Kanie and Kawanaka, who obtained their positions as late as June. Encouraged by Hayakawa, Kanie and Kawanaka practiced hard before securing their spot in London. Hayakawa became a Japanese citizen for family reasons. She said she could experience the joy of archery and competing on a team after coming to Japan. Hayakawa shot her arrow into the 10-point area in her final shot of the match to help Japan win bronze. [Ibid]

Japan’s Kakiiwa, Fujii Win Silver in Women’s Olympic Badminton

Adam Westlake wrote in the Japan Daily Press: While the badminton sport may have been the source of much controversy at this year’s Olympics, the Japanese women’s team has brought some good out of it with their first medal for the country in the sport. Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa won the silver medal in the doubles competition on Saturday, following their loss to China at the Wembley Arena. With match scores of 21-10, and 25-23, Japan was on the verge of an incredible comeback, but just couldn’t overcome the Chinese duo of Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei. [Source: Adam Westlake, Japan Daily press, August 6, 2012]

Despite badminton not seeming like a sport with much intensity, the second match had everyone’s attention with its back-and-forth rallies and the score kept close the entire time. But in the end, China won their fifth consecutive Olympic gold in the sport. The Chinese pair of Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang were among the teams that were disqualified from the tournament after judges and the Badminton World Federation found that they losing intentionally in order to be paired up with weaker teams in the quarterfinals. But this didn’t affect Qing and Yunlei and they played their best and their performances were unmarred by scandal. [Ibid]

Japan’s Mizuki Fujii said she was more than happy with her results, despite wanting the gold, of course, from the start of the finals, once that silver was put around her neck, she said it felt just as good. Describing the weight as much heavier than expected, she said she can’t wait to show the medal to her family and supporters back home.

Japan Wins Silver in Men's Team Foil

The Japan men's foil team made history Sunday by winning a silver medal at the London Games, the first-ever Olympic medal for a Japanese fencing team and the nation's second medal in the sport overall, following the silver won by Yuki Ota in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Japan team--Ota, Ryo Miyake, Kenta Chida and Suguru Awaji--defeated world No. 3 Germany 41-40 after Ota leveled the score with one second remaining in the last of nine bouts in the semifinal. Ota then clinched the match in sudden-death overtime. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 7, 2012]

Ranked No. 7 in the world, Japan fought tenaciously against world No. 1 Italy in the final. However, Ota ultimately ran out of energy and Japan was defeated 45-39. Ota won a silver medal in the individual competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which did not have a team foil competition. Although Japan missed out on the top prize in the men's team foil competition Sunday, Ota and the other team members drew on their strong ties to push hard until the end against top-ranked Italy. And snaring the silver fulfilled a strong wish Ota had before the London Games. "I wanted to give Chida a medal no matter what," he said. [Ibid]

Chida comes from Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, which was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. He had the expectations of many people from home on his shoulders as he competed. Ota and Chida were both born in 1985, and Ota wanted him to take a medal back to his hometown. Ota also thought that Miyake and Awaji--they are in their early 20s--would lead the nation's fencing after him. If they could win a medal at the London Games, it would give the young fencers great confidence, he felt. [Such were Ota's feelings as he stepped up on the piste, the playing area of fencing. [Ibid]

Ota fought Italy's Andrea Cassara in the sixth bout of the final. Ota lost to Cassara in the third round of the individual foil competition last week, but on Sunday Ota narrowed Italy's lead from three points to one, playing as well as he did in Japan's semifinal win over Germany. "After I was defeated in the individual competition, I lost energy somehow. If I'd fought individually again, I would've lost again," Ota said. "But I was able to do my best because it was for my teammates and Kenta, not myself." After the final, Chida said with a smile: "Ota saved the team many times. I can't thank him enough." Told about Ota's feelings regarding a medal for him, Chida looked embarrassed and said, "I'm glad to hear that." [Ibid]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Mainichi Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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