Japanese Olympic Success in Rio


Today is the first day after the Olympic Games in Rio. Like many people who were glued to TV for the last 2 weeks, I am having Olympic withdrawal. I watched Olympic broadcast almost all day, even the sporting events that I did not quite understand because it was the Olympics!

The broadcast in U.S. channel was almost entirely catered to American teams. I didn’t get to see Japanese compete unless the event happened to have American hopefuls. Americans are celebrating the all-time record of medal counts (in non-boycotted games) of 121 total medals and 46 gold medals. The Americans did amazingly well in Rio, and it was very fun to watch for us at home.

Did you know that my beloved other home country Japan did the best in their history also? They accumulated total of 41 medals, 12 of them gold. They came in 6th in the overall medal count. For a small country like Japan with population of short and small people, that is a great feat!  Average height for Japanese male is 170.7cm (5 feet 7 inches). For Japanese female, it’s 158cm (5 feet 2 inches).  If you visit Japan, you notice that people are slightly built, and you don’t see many people with athletic build either.

You may say Chinese people are relatively short and small, and they take many medals at the Olympics. Chinese athletic programs are state-run, and the children with talent get removed from home at young age to train full time just to compete in their assigned sport. In Japan, the system is just like any other Western countries. No state-run programs. Each athlete has to find ways and means to train on their own. Most of the athletes work for some companies that allow athletes to have the schedule to train. Very few of the athletes get endorsement deals and get wealthy.

They did well in sports like wrestling and Judo in which the people with the same weight class compete with each other. They also did great in men’s gymnastics which is a sport for shorter people. Japanese men took gymnastic team gold this year, ending the Chinese two-time reign of the event (2008 Beijing and 2012 London).  Kohei Uchimura (内村航平) took the individual gold medal in 2 consecutive Olympics (2012 London and 2016 Rio) and is considered to be one of the greatest gymnasts in history. We didn’t get to see much of Japanese gymnasts on TV since American men’s team was not doing well. I caught up with their achievements on You Tube videos.

Japan has done well in swimming in recent Olympics including Rio, and I am always amazed to see the Japanese swimmers’ athletic build. They are as big as American (or any other western country’s) swimmers. As I mentioned before, it’s not usual to see people with masculine build like them in Japan.

In my opinion, the most amazing event for the Japanese athletes in Rio was track and field, 4X100m men’s relay. They placed second after the Jamaican team spearheaded by none other than Usain Bolt. I was able to catch this event on prime time TV. The TV commentator was predicting that the Japanese relay team who broke the Asian record this year was the “sleeper team”, and he was right. You hardly ever see Japanese track and field athletes in Olympics where the height and size matters.  The commentator mentioned that the Japanese team practiced the baton handover for at least 6 months because that was where the difference could be made in relay. Other countries’ teams practice for few weeks.  None of the Japanese relay team members could run 100m under 10 seconds, but collectively, they did very well with seamless baton passing. The relay anchor’s name is Aska Cambridge, and his father is Jamaican and his mother is Japanese.

The next Olympic will be in Tokyo in 2020. I would love to be in Tokyo to attend the Olympic 2020. I have to carry both American and Japanese flags to root for both teams!


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