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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] New Tokyo 2020 Chief Seiko Hashimoto Brings Wealth of Olympic Experiences to Top Post

A seven-time Olympian, Hashimoto also served as Japan’s chef de mission for three Olympics.

Ed Odeven

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In the aftermath of a self-inflicted public relations disaster, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee made the prudent pick by naming Seiko Hashimoto its new president on Thursday, February 18.

Former chief Yoshiro Mori’s departure a little more than five months before the delayed Tokyo Games begin puts the spotlight on Hashimoto, who stepped down as Olympic Minister to tackle this new challenge.

The 83-year-old Mori was widely criticized for sexist remarks he made earlier this month, leading to his resignation on February 12. 

Indeed, Hashimoto has a difficult job restoring public confidence in Tokyo 2020 leadership after Mori’s departure. But the seven-time Olympian (speed skating and track cycling) brings decades of involvement in international sports. As an Olympian, she represented Japan in the former Yugoslavia, Canada, France, Norway, South Korea, Spain and the United States between 1984 and ’96.

What’s more, Hashimoto served as Japan’s chef de mission at the 2010 Vancouver Games and 2014 Sochi Games, as well as at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. She also previously served as the president of the Japan Skating Federation.

Along the way, Hashimoto became well versed in the logistics, planning and overlapping tasks involving sports governing bodies and government entities. She also accrued knowledge of how the government operates from her long tenure in the House of Councillors. She was first elected in 1995.

Based on her previous job working for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his successor, Yoshihide Suga, Hashimoto is keenly aware that Tokyo 2020 organizers are tasked with a difficult set of circumstances to restore the public’s faith in the organization and to leave a positive legacy.

“As part of the Tokyo Organizing Committee, I will further accelerate efforts to build a collaborative framework with the national government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to convince everyone, both in Japan and around the world, that Tokyo 2020 is ‘the safe and secure Games,’ ” Hashimoto said at a news conference on the same day as her her new job was announced.

“In addition, my appointment as president is important for gender equality. At the recent joint round-table conference between the Board of Trustees and the Board of Directors of the Organizing Committee, it was decided to increase the proportion of women within the Board of Directors and to create a team to promote gender equality. I think we have to work on this quickly. It is important to come up with working groups and produce results within a month, and I appreciate all your efforts with this matter.”

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach publicly endorsed the decision to appoint Hashimoto as Tokyo 2020’s new president.

“With her great Olympic experience … and having led Japan’s delegation to the Olympic Games multiple times, she is the perfect choice for this position,” he said in a statement. “Seiko Hashimoto can draw on her rich political experience as a minister and many other political functions. This will help to deliver safe and successful Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Stating that “diversity and inclusion is the vision” of the Tokyo Games, Hashimoto embraces the role of sports to promote gender equality while issuing a challenge to her Tokyo 2020 colleagues.

“I would like all members of the Organizing Committee to confirm this first,” she said at the news conference. “I would like to create a legacy that recognizes everyone, regardless of gender, disability, race, sexual orientation, etc., and build a society where they can coexist.”

Nobody says this will be easy. 

The same is true for what the 2020 Olympic organizers have confronted since the Tokyo Games were postponed for the first time last year.

Looking ahead, Hashimoto insists that human capital and cooperation are the keys to doing this successfully.

“We will create a working team within the Organizing Committee to propose a template for how to run an Olympic and Paralympic Games in this challenging environment, including diversity, to the IOC, IPC [International Paralympic Committee] and the government, and how to utilize this experience for the future.

Upper House lawmaker Tamayo Marukawa, 50, replaced Hashimoto as Olympic Minister, returning to her former post (2016-17).

Donna Furlong Stelling, an international adviser in sports, is an outspoken supporter of Hashimoto’s appointment to Tokyo 2020 chief.

Contacted by JAPAN Forward a day after Hashimoto accepted her new job, Stelling reacted to the news by saying, “…It’s the right decision. Ms. Seiko Hashimoto is a seven-time Olympian with experience in successfully navigating the world of sports and politics. The appointment sends all the right signals to all Olympic stakeholders and puts the Organizing Committee back on the right track. But it’s a track that could derail at any time. 

“Promoting women in leadership roles during times of crises is common. The term is called the ‘glass cliff’ which is a twist on the concept of the glass ceiling. Female executives and politicians are elevated to positions of power to help save the day, where there are impossible challenges and when there is the greater risk of failure. But can the new president save the Tokyo Olympics?”  

Stelling added: “Countries led by women performed significantly better during the pandemic. Women leaders reacted more quickly and saved lives. The Organizing Committee requires the same decisive leadership. IOC press releases and playbooks are not enough to instill trust and confidence. Public and athlete health must be protected at all costs. Lives are at stake. Serious challenges remain. We should expect the new president to lead with integrity, honesty, and transparency.” 

Baseball

Ohtani Prepares for Fourth Season in Majors

Shohei Ohtani experienced mixed success over his first three MLB seasons while also coping with elbow and arm injuries. Most noteworthy, he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2018. 

Now, the pitcher/designated hitter is getting ready for the upcoming season with his Los Angeles Angels teammates at the ballclub’s spring training facilities in Tempe, Arizona. 

Pitchers and catchers traditionally report to camp before position players, and Ohtani was among the pitchers who caught manager Joe Maddon’s eye a day before camp officially kicked off on Wednesday, February 17. 

“He was showing velocity numbers, and it’s hard to show 95-plus [mph, or about 153 kph on the radar gun] in a workout,” Maddon was quoted as saying by the Orange County Register

“He looked magnificent. The way the arm was working. The [velocity] numbers were high. Normally you get a workout or a [bullpen session], a guy is working on things, and you get a nice number, but you’re not going to get a big number. These numbers are big.”

Ohtani could join a starting rotation that is expected to feature Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney, Griffin Canning, Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb in 2021.

Maddon is approaching the upcoming season with an open mind for how the team will use Ohtani.

“I don’t want to tell him what he can or cannot do, and neither does [Angeles general manager Perry Minasian],” Maddon said, according to the Orange County Register. “So let’s watch him. Let’s talk to him. Let’s communicate with him. Let’s permit him to go out there. He was very successful in Japan. Let’s just see what he does and watch and make our evaluations and adjustments based on what we’re seeing, and not be kind of prejudiced or predisposed in advance.”

Ohtani was limited to two starts during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season due to a right elbow/forearm ailment, but the right-hander now appears fully healthy.

He participated in his first official bullpen season of camp on Thursday, February 18, and was pleased with how it went.

“I trained all offseason, so I feel much better than last year,” Ohtani said, according to this report  on the Angels website.

The Angels play their first Cactus League game on February 28 against the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium.

Van den Hurk, Swallows on Verge of Deal: Reports

Dutch right-hander Rick van den Hurk pitched for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks for the past six seasons, compiling a record of 43-19.

Now without a deal in place, he is negotiating a contract with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, Sankei Sports and other media outlets reported this week.

The 35-year-old van den Hurk had his best season in Japan in 2017, when he won 13 games and lost seven. He was limited to five games last season, finishing 2-2 with a 6.92 ERA.

The Swallows finished last in the Central League with a 41-69-10 record in 2020.

Soccer

New Mom Iwashimizu Preparing to Make Comeback

Azusa Iwashimizu, one of the most accomplished Japanese players of her generation, is preparing for the inaugural season of the WE League, which starts in September.

The veteran defender is back with Nippon TV Beleza, the former Nadeshiko League team she joined in 2003.

Eyeing a comeback as a new mother, the 34-year-old is eager to make an impact in the new 11-team circuit.

“I want to show the new-and-improved version of Iwashimizu this year,” Iwashimizu was quoted as saying by Kyodo News earlier this week.

In February, Iwashimizu, a 13-time selection to the Nadeshiko League’s Best XI, finalized a contract for the upcoming season with Beleza.

After a long layoff due to maternity leave, Iwashimizu acknowledged there are no guarantees about her place on the team for 2021.

“I have to fight for a position. I’m fired up to compete,” Iwashimizu, who helped Japan capture the 2011 Women’s World Cup title, was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

The Iwate Prefecture native gave birth to a son in March 2020, then took part in workouts toward the end of the year.

The fledgling WE League — the “WE” stands for Women’s Empowerment — will begin holding preseason matches in April.

Ski Jumping

Takahashi Ties Kasai’s Record With 17th World Cup Win

Ryoyu Kobayashi soared to victory in a World Cup event in Zakopane, Poland, on Saturday, February 13.

For the 24-year-old, who hails from Hachimantai, Iwate Prefecture, the win was significant for two reasons. First and foremost, he triumphed for the first time since December 29, 2019, on the Ski Jumping World Cup circuit.

In addition, Kobayashi tied compatriot Noriaki Kasai’s mark of 17 World Cup wins, the most by a Japanese male ski jumper.

Kobayashi completed a 136.-5 meter effort on his first jump, then traveled 134.5 meters on his second attempt.

Kobayashi, who accumulated 268.9 points beat Poland’s Andrzej Stekala by a narrow margin. The runner-up finished with 268.6 points.

“I’m very happy that I could win today,” Kobayashi told reporters. “The conditions were good despite the snowfall because there was less wind than in the last competitions. When I was jumping everything was OK. I hope that it will go that well for me again tomorrow.”

A day later, Kobayashi placed ninth overall at the same venue, while 23-year-old Keiichi Sato was eighth.

Takanashi Back on Track With Victory

A day after placing second in a World Cup event in Rasnov, Romania, Sara Takanashi delivered the best performance of the day to earn her third win of the season.

Takanashi had the day’s two-best jumps (92.0 meters and 99.9 meters) en route to finishing atop the scoreboard with 239.2 points on Friday, February 19.

“The wind was swirling so the conditions were difficult, but I was able to focus on what I needed to do,” Takanashi told reporters.

On the previous day, she received 232.9 points, trailing only Nika Kriznar of Slovenia (235.7) in the final standings.

Takanashi has been one of the most consistently successful women’s ski jumpers this season. In nine World Cup competitions, she’s had six podium finishes.

She was second overall in the season standings (606 points) through February 19 after the 10th of 17th events. Kiznar was first with 611.

Takanashi is the all-time winningest ski jumper on the World Cup circuit (60 victories).

RELATED STORY:
[ODDS and EVENS] Sara Takanashi Regains Mojo, Soars to Back-to-Back Victories

Quotes of the Week

“When her attitude is good, her mind is very clear what she needs to do, what she wants to do. And then she plays well.”

Wim Fissette, Naomi Osaka’s coach, on February 19, a day before her appearance in the Australian Open women’s singles final.

“I really am looking forward to getting everyone together to congratulate them. But to be back in uniform, watching them on the field again, to kind of think back a little bit to 2020 but look out and look forward to 2021 is exciting.”

―Okinawa native Dave Roberts, manager of the reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, on February 18, expressing his excitement for spring training to get underway.

“We have the talent but it’s been, honestly, hard to adjust, playing with Russ [newcomer Russell Westbrook], playing with Brad [Bradley Beal], playing with DB [Davis Bertans], playing with other guys. It just takes time. We are a very young team. … We’ve just got to build. We can’t slow down from here.”

―Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura on team chemistry on February 18, two days before the start of a four-game road trip and a day after the Wizards won their third straight game.



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.