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

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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

Sofia Goggia loses pole, wins race by .01

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ST. MORITZ, Switerland (AP) — An Italian 1-2 edging Mikaela Shiffrin into third place. This movie has been seen before in the women’s World Cup this season.

By the smallest margin, Italy’s Sofia Goggia won a super-G on Saturday and Mikaela Shiffrin was third, which helped extend her overall standings lead.

Goggia was just 0.01 second faster than her teammate Federica Brignone on a sunny, windswept mountain above the high-end resort of St. Moritz.

Shiffrin was only 0.13 behind Goggia for her sixth podium finish in eight World Cup races so far as she seeks a fourth straight overall title.

It was the second time in two weeks that Shiffrin stood looking up at two Italians. It also happened in a giant slalom at Killington, Vt., where Marta Bassino edged Brignone for victory.

“They are all great skiers and they have a really aggressive mindset,” Shiffrin said of her friendly rivalry with the Italy team. “It’s super cool to see.”

Brignone was sitting in the leader’s box when Goggia raced and applauded with hands above her head after seeing her teammate’s time.

“It’s an amazing thing for all the team to share the podium and share happiness,” said Brignone, though acknowledging it hurt to lose by so little.

“It’s one hundredth so it burns. A lot,” she said.

Goggia’s seventh World Cup win was her third in super-G. She also took silver at the biennial world championships in February when Shiffrin won by just 0.02.

Always one of the most flamboyant racers, Goggia seemed at the limit making some turns and lost a ski pole landing a jump near the end.

The 2018 Olympic downhill champion said she had to let the pole go after soaring “too long, too high” at the jump.

Goggia also held nothing back standing atop the podium, loudly and heartily singing her national anthem, known by its opening line of Fratelli d’Italia, with eyes closed.

In a tight race, 10 racers were within one second of the winner. Nicole Schmidhofer, the 2017 World champion on this course, was fourth and there was a three-way tie for sixth.

By placing 10th, Viktoria Rebensburg rose to lead the super-G standings after two races. The German racer is also second overall though her World Cup points total is less than half of Shiffrin’s 532 tally.

“For now, she [Shiffrin] is unbeatable for the overall,” said Brignone, who is third.

Shiffrin won this race last year, and also added victory in the parallel slalom to sweep the weekend series.

Shiffrin later said she will skip Sunday’s parallel event — just the third time she has skipped a tech race since she burst onto the World Cup scene in 2012 — to prepare for a giant slalom in Courchevel, France, on Tuesday and a downhill and combined in Val d’Isere next weekend.

“There are quite a few reasons for this but at the top of the list is that for several years I have been longing to race Val d’Isere but have never been able to because the @fisalpine schedule is always too tough (for those who race in all disciplines),” was posted on Shiffrin’s social media. “But one of my goals this season is to get on that track and to race a little more speed in general so I’m trying to manage energy and focus accordingly!”

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Brittany Bowe breaks record shared with Bonnie Blair, Heather Bergsma

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Brittany Bowe broke a record she shared with Bonnie Blair and Heather Bergsma by winning her seventh straight World Cup 1000m on Saturday in Nagano, Japan.

Bowe clocked 1:14.344, taking the track record from Olympic silver medalist Nao Kodaira and distancing Olympic bronze medalist Miho Takagi and Dutchwoman Sanneke de Neeling by .55.

Bowe, fourth and eighth in the event at her two Olympics, is averaging better than a half-second margin of victory during her streak dating to last season, a significant gap to the rest of the field. She lowered track records in six of her seven wins, plus broke the world record and added a world championships gold.

“I’ve got a lot of losses under my belt. With how sweet the wins are, the losses are just as tough,” Bowe told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “There are some races that I’m not pleased with, and I’d like to be on the top of that 1500m podium. So that one’s keeping me hungry.”

Bowe, a past world champion and former world-record holder at 1500m, last won at that distance in February.

Her latest 1000m victory broke a tie with Blair and Bergsma for the U.S. record for consecutive women’s World Cup 1000m victories, according to schaatsstatistieken.nl. Blair won all six of her World Cup 1000m starts in the 1993-94 Olympic season, while Bergsma took six straight in 2016-17.

Only German Anni Friesinger-Postma has more consecutive World Cup wins at the distance with eight in the 2007-08 season, according to the website. For the men, Shani Davis won 12 straight from 2008-10.

Bowe, a former Florida Atlantic point guard who missed all of 2016-17 with a concussion, is up to 26 career World Cup wins. That’s fifth on the U.S. all-time list behind Blair (69), Davis (58), Dan Jansen (46) and Bergsma (34), according to schaatsstatistieken.nl.

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