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Tokyo Olympic organizers explore options for extreme temperatures

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TOKYO (AP) — The head of an IOC inspection team says organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will explore all options to combat the extreme summer heat that will likely prevail in the Japanese capital during the Games.

John Coates was in Tokyo for a two-day inspection of the city’s preparations for the Games which are just two years away.

The 2020 Olympics will run from July 24 to Aug. 9 when temperatures in central Tokyo can exceed 95 degrees. It’s common to see thousands of people rushed to hospitals with heatstroke during those months.

Experts have warned the risk of heatstroke in Tokyo has escalated in recent years, while noting the Olympics are expected to take place in conditions when sports activities should normally be halted.

“We are mindful that we do have to prepare for extreme heat,” Coates said at a news conference on Thursday. “You’re not the first country to host the Games in extreme heat. It’s a natural consequence of being in July and August.”

Coates said each venue will have to be prepared to combat the heat.

“The effect of this is something that I was addressing when I went out and saw the rowing course,” Coates said. “It’s always the case with rowing that, because of winds, you might have a delay during the day and therefore we need to assure there is a large space for the athletes to rest in an air-conditioned area and that will happen.”

The Japanese government and the Tokyo metropolitan government are planning to lay pavements that emit less surface heat and plant taller roadside trees.

“The spectators as well as the athletes have to be taken care of,” Coates said. “The timing of the marathon and road walks will be as early as possible as they have been in previous Games to beat the heat.”

Coates visited several venues during this visit and said work is largely on track.

He toured several venues and described them as “very impressive.” Among the venues visited were the new National Stadium in central Tokyo, as well as the badminton and equestrian venues.

Coates also visited the Sea Forest facilities, including the rowing and canoe sprint courses, calling progress “very good.”

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Daisuke Takahashi ends four-year figure skating retirement

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Japanese figure skater Daisuke Takahashi is coming out of a four-year retirement, according to the Olympic medalist and world champion’s website.

“First and foremost, I would like to announce my return to the competition from beginning of the new season,” the statement read. “In 2017 Japan Figure Skating Championships, I had the privilege to be present at the site from media’s standpoint and I was really moved by each skater’s respective positions thus motivations, which made me realize that I want to fight and skate again in such tensed environment.”

Takahashi, 32, last competed at the Sochi Olympics, taking sixth, four years after becoming both the first Japanese male Olympic figure skating medalist (bronze) and world champion.

He returns at an advanced age. For perspective, the last time a 32-year-old competed in Olympic singles skating was 1998.

“It took me nearly 4 years from then, but now I would like to face fully with figure skating, and for me to catch up on my skating from the old days, I realized that returning to the competition is the answer,” Takahashi said on his website. “Being away for 4 years, I understand that it will be beyond my imagination of how difficult it may be for me to get back in the game. But I would like to push and train myself even harder in order for me to achieve the feeling of giving all I’ve got and that is the one thing that I couldn’t accomplish before my retirement. Needless to say but I am really excited and looking forward to skating as a competitor again in front of all the people who have been supporting me for all these years. Wish me luck.”

Takahashi won two other world championships silver medals and finished eighth or better at every worlds and Olympics at which he skated from 2006 through Sochi.

He helped usher in the current deep crop of Japanese men’s skaters, including Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and silver medalist Shoma Uno.

“I asked him for advice and he has helped me many times,” Hanyu said in a statement when Takahashi retired, according to Agence France-Presse. “As a skater … he will always be someone I look up to.”

The fourth son of a hairdresser and an architect, Takahashi opted not to follow his brothers into karate and began figure skating instead.

He would become one of the beloved athletes in the sport, adored in Japan as a five-time national champion. Fans were brought to tears when it was announced in the arena at the 2013 Japanese Championships that he was placed on the three-man Olympic team despite finishing fifth at that event.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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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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