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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] A Record 582 Athletes Comprise Host Nation’s Olympic Contingent

Team Japan had 338 athletes at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and the last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964 there were a total of 355.

Ed Odeven

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The Olympics have grown in size and scale over the decades. Just as infrastructure costs and increased media coverage have increased, the host nation’s participation numbers have also followed an upward curve.

Case in point: Japan’s Olympic team had 328 participating athletes (270 men and 58 women) in 21 sports at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games, according to sports-reference.com. The official delegation of athletes, however, was 355, the JOC said.

Fifty-seven years later, Team Japan has 582 athletes, the Japanese Olympic Committee confirmed on Monday, July 5, 18 days before the Opening Ceremony at the New National Stadium in the nation’s capital.

For more than 30 years, Japan’s contingent for the Summer Games didn’t top 300, and dipped to as few as 171 for the 1968 Mexico City Games.

Then the squad for the 1996 Atlanta Games had 306 participants (157 men and 149 women). 

In 2004, 306 Japanese Olympians went to the Athens Games.

Four years later, a national squad of 332 athletes (167 men and 165 women) was sent to the Beijing Olympics.

And how many athletes comprised Team Japan for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics? 

Nearly identical to the first Olympiad in China ー 338, and again with nearly a 50-50 split between the genders (174 men, 164 women).

Returning to the present, Japan’s 582 names penciled in on the official roster sheets for the Tokyo Games include 306 male and 276 female athletes for the 33 sports on the Olympic program.

Including coaches, sports governing body leaders and other support staff such as translators, Team Japan has 1,058 people for the Tokyo Games. It’s a massive increase from the Rio Games, when the delegation had 601 individuals.

 

Olympic Digest

Policy Reversed as Fans Barred in Fukushima, Hokkaido

After previously stating that spectators would be permitted at Olympic events in Fukushima Prefecture, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee announced on Saturday, July 10 that fans will be barred from venues.

This will affect spectators who had planned to attend baseball and softball games in Fukushima.

National broadcaster NHK reported that Fukushima Prefecture asked the organizers to hold events there behind closed doors because of concerns over COVID-19 outbreaks.

A day earlier, Tokyo 2020 said that Olympic soccer matches in Hokkaido Prefecture would be off limits to spectators, after previously saying that fans would be allowed to attend.

As of 9 p.m. on July 10, only 3% of events, those held in Miyagi, Ibaraki and Shizuoka prefectures, will have spectators, according to NHK.

RELATED:

Osaka Breaks Media Silence, Appears on Cover of Time

Naomi Osaka penned an essay for Time in the news magazine’s Olympic preview issue, sharing her thoughts on mental health, interacting with the press, the desire to have time away from media obligations on occasion and suggestions for the pro tennis’ handling of media policies, which she believes are outdated.

After pulling out of the French Open on May 31 after a first-round victory, Osaka had what she said was a much-needed break from the spotlight.

Now, she said, she’s eager to compete at the Olympics.

“I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo” the Japanese-born star wrote.“An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of the Japanese fans is a dream come true. I hope I can make them proud.”

In the essay, the four-time Grand Slam singles champion also explained her decision to boycott the media at the French Open.

“In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms — frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me,” she wrote. “I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones.”

She went on: “There can be moments for any of us where we are dealing with issues behind the scenes. Each of us as humans is going through something on some level. I have numerous suggestions to offer the tennis hierarchy, but my No. 1 suggestion would be to allow a small number of “sick days” per year where you are excused from your press commitments without having to disclose your personal reasons. I believe this would bring sport in line with the rest of society.”

Read the essay here.

In related news, the official trailer for Netflix’s Osaka documentary has been released.

The documentary debuts on Netflix on Friday, July 16.

More information on the project is posted here and here, among other news outlets.


Springsteen’s Daughter Named to U.S. Equestrian Team

Rock ‘n’ roll fans are used to seeing Bruce Springsteen’s name in the headlines and hearing his songs. Now they’ll hear about The Boss’s daughter at the upcoming Tokyo Games.

Jessica Springsteen, 29, was named to the U.S. Equestrian jumping team on Monday, July 5. 

A first-time Olympian, Springsteen joins Kent Farrington, Laura Kraut, a one-time gold medalist, and McLain Ward, a two-time gold medalist, on the American squad.

Ranked 27 in the International Federation for Equestrian Sports’ latest world rankings, Springsteen is set to compete aboard Don Juan van de Donkhoeve, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood stallion, at Equestrian Park in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.

“There’s no horse in the world I’d rather be on this journey with, thank you Don!” Springsteen wrote on Instagram. “You’re my horse of a lifetime.” 

Shearman Returning to Tokyo as an Olympic Photographer for The Second Time

British photographer Mark Shearman is one of the best in the business. His body of work, showcased in Athletics Weekly magazine, provides a glimpse of what he’s seen through his camera lens during a career that began in the 1960s.

Shearman, who specializes in track and field images, photographed the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and it became the real start of his globetrotting career. His visit to Tokyo this year marks his 15th Olympics on the job.


In an interview with Shearman in 2015, he told me that he wasn’t a credentialed media member at the 1964 Games, so he bought a ticket and carried his photo equipment into the National Stadium, and then “moved around the stadium as much as I could,” Shearman said.

“My initial impression of the Tokyo 1964 Games was really the size of the Games,” he recalled. “I had never attended an event of this importance or magnitude before.”

Another revealing insight from my interview with Shearman six years ago: “I noticed at major games like the Olympics that many photographers are happy to work from one position,” he noted. “I don’t. I will move around the stadium to get the best viewpoints and estimate I will walk up to 10 km during a day’s photography.”

Swimmer Ikee Celebrates 21st Birthday, Relay Team Record

Media darling Rikako Ikee celebrated her 21st birthday on July 4, the same day that the Japan women’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay team set a national record in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture. 

Ikee swam the second leg of the Olympic quartet’s final race before the Summer Games, and the foursome completed the event in 1 minute, 39.67 seconds.

An electronic scoreboard beamed a birthday message to Ikee at Sagamihara Green Pool.

“I don’t know if I’m the happiest person in Japan or the world, but I truly felt that I’m a happy swimmer,” Ikee was quoted as saying by The Mainichi Shimbun.

Ikee’s relay teammates are Chihiro Igarashi, Natsumi Sakai and Rika Omoto, and they eclipsed their day-old national record by 0.15 seconds.

Update on COVID-19 Positive Tests

Since arriving in Japan in recent weeks from overseas, athletes or team staff from Uganda (unidentified sports; two people), Serbia (rowing; one), Israel (unnamed; one) and Lithuania (swimmer; one) have tested positive for COVID-19, according to published reports. 

In each of the reported cases, the individuals have been placed in quarantine after testing positive, adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols.

Japan Men’s Basketball Squad Mounts Spirited Comeback, but Falls to Belgium

In the Japan men’s national basketball team’s second pre-Olympic game of the week in Okinawa City, coach Julio Lamas’ club rallied from a 25-9 deficit at the end of the first quarter against Belgium on Friday, July 9. But the Europeans displayed poise in a back-and-forth duel in the fourth quarter as the teams traded baskets and the lead. 

Belgium won 73-70 despite being outscored 45-27 in the second and third quarters.

Pierre-Antoine Gillet paced the victors with 21 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with 3 seconds remaining. Belgium outrebounded Japan 45-30.

Japan’s Yuki Togashi sank a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left to tie it at 70-70.

Yuta Watanabe and Gavin Edwards paced the hosts with 16 points apiece, with Watanabe also making four steals. Makoto Hiejima finished with 11 points.

Japan defeated Hungary 79-58 on Wednesday, July 7.

A Sunday, July 11 game against Finland at Okinawa Arena wrapped up the Akatsuki Five’s pre-Olympic warm-up series in Okinawa City. Finland prevailed 76-71.

Japan returns to the court on Friday, July 16 against Belgium in another exhibition game. Tipoff is 7:10 p.m.. On Sunday, July 18, Lamas’ squad meets world No. 7 France at 1:30 p.m. Both matches are at Saitama City General Gymnasium.

RELATED: BASKETBALL | Rui Hachimura, Yuta Watanabe Among 12 Players Named to Japan National Team for Tokyo Games

Special Honor for 1964 Olympic Basketball Gold Medalist

Larry Brown, a guard on the U.S. gold medal-winning men’s basketball team at the 1964 Olympics, is the 2021 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award winner, the NBA announced on July 8.

The native New Yorker appeared in all nine of Team USA’s games in Tokyo and averaged 4.1 points.

Brown’s coaching career began in 1965 at the University of North Carolina, where he served as an assistant to Dean Smith. He guided the University of Kansas to an NCAA Tournament title in 1988 and led the Detroit Pistons to an NBA title in 2004. No other head coach has won both.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, now 80, recently accepted a job as a University of Memphis assistant coach.

“I am honored to receive the Chuck Daly Lifetime Award for multiple reasons,” Brown said. “Chuck Daly was a great coach and a great person whose work and legacy are appropriately celebrated with this award. To be mentioned in the same conversation with the previous recipients is truly humbling.

“I want to thank all of the coaches with whom I coached and those I coached against, so many of whom are great competitors and friends. And thanks to the players I had the good fortune to coach. I am very proud of what my teams accomplished. Lastly, I want to thank the NBA Coaches Association and the Selection Committee for this honor.”

NBA.com’s latest interview with Brown is posted here.

Sumo

Hakuho, Terunofuji Unbeaten Entering Second Week

Hakuho and Terunofuji each improved to 6-0 at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on Friday, July 9.

Yokozuna Hakuho defeated No. 3 maegashira Hokutofuji for his sixth consecutive victory at the 15-day basho. Terunofuji maintained his title hopes by outmuscling No. 2 maegashira Ichinojo. The victorious ozeki, who won the last two tournaments at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, is now 9-2 in his career against his Mongolian compatriot.

A day later, Hakuho met No 3 maegashira Tobizaru for the first time and fended off the pesky challenger’s upset quest, raising his record to 7-0 at Dolphins Arena.

Terunofuji shoved No. 4 Kotoeko out of the dohyo to collect his seventh win in as many matches.

Golf

Hataoka Begins Title Quest with 10-under 61 at Marathon LPGA Classic

Nasa Hataoka had a terrific start at the Marathon LPGA Classic on Thursday, July 8 in Sylvania, Ohio, carding a 10-under 61.

After three rounds, Hataoka held a six-stroke advantage in the LPGA Tour event.

The tour record for the lowest score in a single round is 59, only accomplished by Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam (second round of the 2001 Standard Register PING victory at Moon Valley Country Club in Arizona.) See Sorenstam’s shot-by-shot total here.

The 22-year-old Hataoka had a shot at tying or breaking the record before parring the final two holes.

“When I had my ninth birdie it kind of did come to my mind,” Hataoka was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. “But then, after I only having two holes [left], I just thought how great Annika was more than me getting it.”

Hataoka was pleased with her shots and ball control in the opening round.

“I think what was really working is I was able to control my iron shots to make sure I could get close to the pin to get the birdies,” Hataoka said.

Hataoka took a four-stroke lead into the second round.

In the second round, Hataoka shot a 2-under 69. She held a two-stroke lead over American Mina Harigae at the midway point of the four-round tournament.

On Saturday, July 10, Hataoka shot a 7-under 64. She has three career victories on the LPGA Tour, the last of which came at the Kia Classic in March 2019.

Elizabeth Szokol and Harigae were at 13-under par entering the final round. Yuka Saso, winner of the U.S. Women’s Open on June 6, was tied for fifth at 12-under par after carding a 64 in the third round. Saso opened the tourney with a 71, followed by a 67.

Hataoka, No. 11 in the world rankings released June 28, and 27th-ranked Mone Inami will represent Japan in women’s golf at the Summer Games.

RELATED: [ODDS and EVENS] Golfer Mone Inami Raises Profile with Brilliant Start in 2021

Baseball

Swallows’ Murakami, Eagles’ Asamura Rewarded for Patience at the Plate

Both men are known for their ability to drive in runs via the long ball. They’ve also demonstrated once again this season that they have the knack for working the count and making pitches pay for their mistakes, including by getting walked frequently. 

Munetaka Murakami of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows is the Central League leader in walks (60) through July 9. He also has 24 home runs, one fewer than league leader Kazuma Okamoto of the Yomiuri Giants. 

In the Pacific League, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles star Hideto Asamura leads all players with 62 free passes. He’s batting .295 in 83 games.

Ohtani Leads MLB in HRs; Darvish to Skip All-Star Game

Los Angeles Angels slugger Shohei Ohtani remains the Major League Baseball leader in home runs through July 10, when he crushed his 33rd of the season against the Seattle Mariners.

San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish is skipping the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday, July 13 in Denver. Darvish is nursing a bad back and hip tightness.

Soccer

Frontale Reach Asian Champions League Knockout Stage

Led by Leandro Damiao’s three-goal effort, Kawasaki Frontale eased past South Korea’s Daegu FC with a 3-1 triumph on July 8 in their Asian Champions League encounter in Tashkent.

Frontale, who pulled away with two second-half goals, extended their winning streak to five and clinched the top spot in Group I.

Damiao leads Frontale with 12 goals in the J. League, two shy of Vissel Kobe forward Kyogo Furuhashi’s league-leading total.

Up next: Kawasaki will compete in the round of 16 in September.

Manager Toru Oniki’s championship squad returns to J. League action on July 17 against Shimizu S-Pulse.

Quotes of the Week

“I believe [Shohei] Ohtani could make as much money as Ichiro [Suzuki] or [Hideki] Matsuyama if he wants to. “[The] only problem is he is not willing to do so, and he is very, very picky in terms of endorsements. I’ve heard he declined a lot of offers.”

Tomoya Suzuki, president of sports marketing firm Trans Insight Corporation, on the MLB star’s rising endorsement possibilities. Suzuki’s insights are included in a new Forbes feature (“How MLB Superstar Shohei Ohtani Made $6 Million in Endorsements Without Even Trying”) here.

“I don’t think it’s our place to say anything about getting spectators to come and to cheer us live. But if I’m allowed to speak on behalf of athletes, the Olympics are a dream stage for them, and I think the fact remains that athletes should do their best.”

Yuzuru Hanyu, speaking at the Dreams on Ice event in Yokohama on July 9, on the unprecedented atmosphere at the pandemic-impacted Tokyo Olympics.

“In the midst of just being lined up with the best in the world, you are not really worried about who is in the stands. You are just worried about going out and competing to the best of their abilities.”

Kendra Harrison, Team USA member and women’s 100-meter hurdles world-record holder, speaking to Kentucky’s Spectrum News 1.


Editor’s note: Interested in submitting a news item for possible inclusion in the Japan Sports Notebook? Send an email with relevant information to e.odeven@japan-forward.com, or JAPAN Forward’s comment’s page  or Facebook page and look for future editions of Japan Sports Notebook on our website.

Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.