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Survey shows Japan’s favorite sports for Tokyo Olympics

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Japanese men and women are most interested in swimming, gymnastics and the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics, according to a survey published Friday.

The survey, conducted in April with 1,207 responses from men and women 20 years and older, according to Kyodo News, revealed the following favorite sports for the 2020 Tokyo Games:

  1. Swimming
  2. Gymnastics
  3. Track and Field (Marathon)
  4. Baseball/Softball
  5. Table Tennis
  6. Soccer
  7. Judo
  8. Volleyball
  9. Track and Field (Non-Marathon)
  10. Tennis

Japan has a history of success in many of those sports.

Kosuke Kitajima is regarded by many as the greatest breaststroker in history after sweeping the 100m and 200m at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Before winning any Olympic medals, Kitajima was invited to the Imperial Palace to meet Emperor Akihito. He later moved to Los Angeles to get away from the celebrity lifestyle in Japan.

Japan has active star swimmers in Kosuke Hagino, who won the 400m individual medley in Rio, and Rikako Ikee, a promising 17-year-old sprint freestyler and butterflier.

Japan is also home to the man regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time — Kohei Uchimura, who won all eight Olympic and world all-around titles from 2009 through 2016. Japan once had a men’s gymnastics dynasty — winning every Olympic team title from 1960 through 1976 — and captured team gold in 2004 and 2016.

Some of Japan’s most memorable Olympic moments came in the marathon —Koichi Morishita‘s silver medal in 1992 and then Naoko Takahashi and Mizuki Noguchi‘s back-to-back women’s marathon gold medals in 2000 and 2004.

Japan won the last Olympic softball title in 2008, upsetting the U.S. in the final. Baseball and softball return to the Olympics in 2020 for the first time since the 2008 Beijing Games and are not guaranteed to remain on the Olympic program beyond Tokyo.

The survey also asked respondents to name their favorite athletes, foreign or domestic, with the following results:

1. Shohei Ohtani (Baseball)
2. Ichiro (Baseball)
3. Yuzuru Hanyu (Figure Skating)
4. Kei Nishikori (Tennis)
5. Mao Asada (Figure Skating, retired)
6. Shigeo Nagashima (Baseball, retired)
7. Hideki Matsuyama (Golf)
8. Hayato Sakamoto (Baseball)
8. Hideki Matsui (Baseball, retired)
10. Senichi Hoshino (Baseball, died in January at age 70)

Of those athletes, Nishikori, Matsuyama and Sakamoto could compete in the Tokyo Olympics. MLB players, like Ohtani, are not expected to debut in the Olympics in 2020.

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MORE: Will Japan’s Olympic legend return for Tokyo 2020?

Pole vaulter, 84, sets her sights on more records

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BURLINGTON, Vt. — An 84-year-old pole vaulter isn’t putting her pole down anytime soon.

Flo Filion Meiler left Thursday for the World Masters Athletics Championship Indoor in Poland, where she’ll compete in events including the long jump, 60-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, pentathlon and pole vault, for which she’s the shoo-in.

The petite, energetic woman from Shelburne, Vermont, said she feels more like 70 than nearly 85.

“But you know, I do train five days a week. And when I found out I was going to compete at the worlds, I’ve been training six days a week because I knew I would really get my body in shape,” she said last week, after track and field training at the University of Vermont.

But she literally won’t have any competition in the pole vault in the championships, which runs March 24-31 in Torun, Poland. She is the only one registered in her age group, 80-84, for the sport, for which she set a world record at age 80. In the men’s pole vault, nine men are listed as competing in that age group.

Meiler said she the events she likes the best are the hurdles and the pole vault – one of the more daring track and field events, in which competitors run while carrying a fiberglass or composite pole, brace it against the ground to launch themselves over a high bar, and land on a mat.

“You really have to work at that,” she said. “You have to have the upper core and you have to have timing, and I just love it because it’s challenging.”

Meiler is used to hard work. She grew up on a dairy farm, where she helped her father with the chores, feeding the cattle and raking hay. In school, she did well at basketball, took tap and ballroom dancing, and, living near Lake Champlain, she water skied.

Meiler, who worked for 30 years as a sales representative for Herbalife nutritional supplements, and her husband, Eugene, who was a military pilot and then became a financial analyst, together competed in water skiing.

“Many times when I did water ski competition I was the only gal in my age group,” she said.

She’s a relative newcomer to pole vaulting and track and field, overall. At age 60, she was competing in doubles tennis with her husband in a qualifying year at the Vermont Senior Games when a friend encouraged her to try the long jump because competitors were needed.

“That was the beginning of my track career,” she said, standing in a room of her home, surrounded by hundreds of hanging medals. She took up pole vaulting at 65.

Athletics has helped her though some hard times, she said. She and her husband adopted three children after losing two premature biological babies and a 3-year-old. Two years ago, their son died at age 51.

And she desperately misses her training partner, a woman who started having health problems about five years ago and can no longer train. It’s tough to train alone, she said, and she hopes to find a new partner.

“She’s incredibly serious about what she does,” said Meiler’s coach, Emmaline Berg. “She comes in early to make sure she’s warmed up enough. She goes home and stretches a lot. So she pretty much structures her entire life around being a fantastic athlete, which is remarkable at any age, let alone hers.”

And it has paid off, said Berg, an assistant track coach at Vermont.

Berg herself first started following Meiler 10 years ago while she was a student at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College, watching her at the annual Dartmouth Relays.

“She was like a local celebrity,” she said.

Setting a record at age 80 with a 6-foot (1.8-meter) pole vault at the USA Track and Field Adirondack Championships in Albany, New York, while her husband watched, Meiler said, was one of her happiest days.

“I was screaming, I was so happy,” she said.

The overall world record for women’s pole vaulting is 16.6 feet (5.6 meters), according to the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Meiler turns 85 in June, when she’ll head to the National Senior Games in New Mexico.

That will put her in a new age group, in which she hopes to set even more records.

Meiler’s athletic achievements are remarkable and something to be celebrated, said Dr. Michael LaMantia, director of the University of Vermont Center on Aging.

Pole vaulting clearly isn’t for everyone of her age, but in general, activity should be, LaMantia said.

“She can serve as a role model for other seniors,” he said.

Amateur boxing president steps aside during IOC inquiry

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — With Olympic boxing under investigation by the IOC, the president of the sport’s governing body said on Friday he was stepping aside to let an interim leader take charge.

Gafur Rakhimov sai d he was not resigning as AIBA president, however, and did not call for new elections.

Rakhimov’s status on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list as an alleged heroin trafficker is part of an inquiry by an International Olympic Committee-appointed panel.

The panel will update the IOC executive board next week in Lausanne, Switzerland. AIBA could be derecognized by IOC members in June.

The IOC halted planning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic boxing tournaments and blocked AIBA officials from contacting organizers in Japan.

“The allegations against me were fabricated and based on politically motivated lies,” Rakhimov said. “I trust that the truth will prevail. Nevertheless, I have always said that I would never put myself above boxing, and as president, I have a duty to do everything in my power to serve our sport and our athletes.”

Under AIBA statutes, an interim president is picked from among the five vice-presidents, who include several Rakhimov supporters. The executive committee is due to meet by telephone this weekend. The interim leader can serve only a maximum 365 days before fresh elections, however, meaning that arrangement can’t last through to the Tokyo Olympics.

When Rakhimov was elected last year, his supporters pushed for a plan to allow the president to step aside while still retaining key influence and being able to return at any time, but that was defeated.

It’s not clear if Rakhimov’s departure would be enough to calm the IOC, which has also criticized AIBA over how fights are judged, anti-doping measures, and its debts.

The IOC could try to host an Olympic boxing tournament without AIBA, and some national boxing officials have tried to form a group which could help the IOC stage the event.