Kohei Uchimura
Getty Images

Japan wants three golds from Kohei Uchimura in Rio, Gold Plan for 2020

Leave a comment

TOKYO (AP) — They’ve set up the elite academy, set in motion the Gold Plan and expect Kohei Uchimura to deliver three medals of that color in Rio de Janeiro next month, all part of the Japanese Olympic Committee’s ambitious program leading into Tokyo 2020.

Japan is sending 331 athletes to Rio, the country’s third-largest delegation at the Olympics after Tokyo in 1964 and Beijing in 2008, and has targeted 14 gold medals — double its tally from London four years ago.

Koji Murofushi, the 2004 Olympics hammer throw gold medalist who is now sports director for the 2020 Tokyo organizing committee, says Japan’s performance in Rio will be vital in paving the way for success on home soil in the subsequent Summer Games.

Rio “is a very important moment for us,” Murofushi told The Associated Press. “If the athletes do well in Rio, then more attention would be coming from the public, and then, throughout Tokyo 2020. So it is very important for athletes to compete well.”

Japan is anticipating strong performances in men’s gymnastics with Uchimura projected to win three golds. Other gold medal hopefuls include wrestlers Saori Yoshida and Kaori Icho and swimmer Kosuke Hagino.

The expectation is that success in Rio will carry over to Tokyo. Host countries have done well on the medal standings in recent editions.

Japan has set an ambitious goal of third place on the table in Tokyo, a vast improvement on its 11th-place at London in 2012.

The goals are set out in the JOC Gold Plan, designed to improve Japan’s international competitiveness. A key component of that is the creation of a national youth development program called the JOC Elite Academy to identify and prepare young athletes for the Tokyo Olympics in four years.

Those Games are sure to have a different look than Rio. For starters, there could be five new sports added to the program under the International Olympic Committee’s new rules that allow a host city to propose sports.

Baseball-softball, surfing, skateboarding, karate and sports climbing have been recommended for inclusion, with a decision expected from the IOC next month.

While Murofushi welcomes the return of baseball and softball, which are hugely popular in Japan, the 41-year-old retired Olympian says he’s especially excited about new sports making a debut in Tokyo.

“I was a skateboarding kid too,” Murofushi said. “Think about the skateboarding kids doing tricks on the streets — once they announce that in the Olympics there will be skateboarding, I know they will be so crazy and excited.”

While the 1964 Games were largely about Japan returning to the global stage as an economic power, 2020 will be a showcase of high-tech, safety and organizational efficiency.

“Tokyo is a very secure and safe city,” Murofushi said. “So I know that athletes will enjoy both the competition scene and when they’re relaxing.”

MORE: Uchimura: Rio likely final Olympics at my peak

Boglarka Kapas, world champion swimmer, tests positive for coronavirus

Boglarka Kapas
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Boglarka Kapas, the Hungarian swimmer and world 200m butterfly champion, said she tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I don’t have any symptoms yet, and that’s why it’s important for you to know that even if you feel healthy you can spread the virus,” was posted on her social media. “Please be careful, stay at home and stay healthy.”

Nine total members of the Hungarian national team — including swimmers and staff — have tested positive, according to the federation.

Kapas said her first test was negative but a second test showed she had the virus. She was staying in quarantine at home for two weeks.

Kapas, 26, won the 200m fly at last summer’s world championships by passing Americans Hali Flickinger and Katie Drabot in the last 25 meters. She clocked 2:06.78 to prevail by .17 of a second.

Kapas also took bronze in the Rio Olympic 800m freestyle won by Katie Ledecky.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

NHL players: Marie-Philip Poulin is world’s best female hockey player

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The U.S. may have the world’s best women’s hockey team, but NHL players believe Canadian Marie-Philip Poulin is the world’s best player.

Poulin received the most votes out of 496 responses in the 2019-20 NHLPA Player Poll, conducted before the season was suspended. The tally:

Poulin: 39.92%
Hilary Knight (USA): 36.29%
Kendall Coyne Schofield (USA): 15.52%
Emily Pfalzer Matheson (USA): 1.41%
Other: 6.85%

Last year, Knight received the highest percentage of votes from 203 NHL players (27.59), edging Poulin (24.14) with Amanda Kessel third (12.81) and Coyne Schofield and Pfalzer Matheson each receiving 5.91 percent.

Why were Poulin and Knight swapped this year? Perhaps Poulin’s Canadian team winning the debut of the NHL All-Star Skills Competition women’s 3-on-3 game on Jan. 24, even though Knight scored and Poulin did not.

Poulin, now 29, scored both goals in the 2010 Olympic final and the game-tying and -winning goals in the 2014 Olympic final. Even before her Olympic debut at age 18, the daughter of Quebec hospital workers was dubbed “the female Sidney Crosby.”

Knight, 30, led last April’s world championship tournament with seven goals as the U.S. won a fifth straight title. Poulin played 4 minutes, 44 seconds, total at the tournament, missing time with a knee injury.

This spring’s tournament, which was to start Tuesday, was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Winter Olympic sports season produced pain, stories to track for 2022