December 11, 2013
HERALD IN JAPANFriday, August 16, 2013
Tokyo 2020 making its bid here
A first-hand look at the city’s credentials
A huge Japanese delegation (with the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself virtually confirmed yesterday) will be descending on this city between September 5 and 8 to defend Tokyo’s bid at the decisive session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to define the venue of the 2020 Games. Istanbul and Madrid will be the two rivals.
In Japan last month, the Herald had the occasion to explore the Tokyo 2020 bid at various levels — the political, the cerebral and also the athletic on the ground. The Herald interviewed Tokyo Governor Kazuo Inose, head of the world’s largest metropolis (with a catchment area of 35 million) — this will be published separately. The distinguished ex-diplomat (and Cambridge graduate) Kazuo Ogura gave his conceptual vision of Tokyo’s Games.
More down-to-earth was Kuniya Daini, the soccer-savvy President of the Japan Football Association (JFA) who still comes across as the midfield dynamo he once was as much as a desk manager. But to see where Japanese athletes actually prepare, the Herald also visited the Ajinomoto National Training Centre and the interlocking Japan Institute of Sports Sciences (JISS). And the Herald even put in a couple of evening hours watching kendo fencing — perhaps more of a cultural statement (dating back to the 8th century) than a competitive sport and an outsider even for a Tokyo Olympics.
Tokyo’s 10 reasons present the metropolis as a safe and creatively innovative city with world-class infrastructure, transport and leisure attractions. Even ahead of next month’s showdown the world’s richest city already has 4.5 billion dollars in cash locked into a Games fund in the bank with full state financial guarantees. Instead of being banished to the outskirts, the easy-access Olympic Village will be in the most downtown and greenest part of Tokyo between the imperial palace and Tokyo Bay with the famous Ginza entertainment district nearby — all offering minimized journey times for athletes with over 87,000 hotel rooms within a 10-kilometre radius.
If the 1964 Tokyo Olympics brought the “bullet train” to the world, 2020 promises a landmark new Olympic Stadium with a retractable roof amid a hub of digital technology geared to sport. With a historic site and futuristic facilities the Tokyo Olympics thus promise to wed past and future.
Yet the Japanese capital is not only proposing soulless efficiency but a celebratory party atmosphere amid the vibrant youth culture of “Cool Tokyo” (and the Herald can attest from its week in Japan that even though it notoriously has the fastest-aging population in the world with well over 20 percent aged over 65, you hardly ever see the elderly and the country has a very young look). Great care is also being taken with the Paralympic Games which will virtually all be in an eight-kilometre radius.
If the haka is iconic for New Zealand rugby, Ogura sees the haiku as the symbol for Japan — i.e. content in the most compact form like that traditional Japanese tweet-length poetry style. Apart from talking up a green, innovative and enjoyable Olympics like other observers, Ogura envisages other benefits — nation-building (by boosting the national image and uplifting youth physically and spiritually), peace-building (international exchanges between athletes and citizens) and urban renewal for a city which has seen its share of disasters since the great Kanto earthquake of 1923. In Ogura’s eyes a mega-city which is growing too large and gradually shifting West will be pulled back East by the Olympic Village and brought back into balance. Finally, he advances the regional argument that the dynamism of Asian economies in the past decade deserves a Tokyo Olympics and not Madrid or Istanbul (geographically in Europe, unlike most of Turkey).
Last year at the London Olympics Japan marked a centenary at the modern Olympics after making its début at the 1912 Stockholm Games.
Since then Japanese athletes have won 131 gold medals, 132 silver medals and 151 bronze medals.
But only in this century has Japanese Olympic preparation entered a new dimension with the foundation of the JISS in 2001 and the National Training Centre (NTC) in 2008, just eight months before the Beijing Olympics. Even though today’s Japanese are taller and heavier than previous generations, they still feel that they lack size and muscle compared to some other countries, which makes the multi-modal science and technology of these state-of-the-art training facilities crucial for recovering a competitive edge. Even when the athletes are sleeping, the NTC/JISS complex continues training them inside living-quarters with reduced oxygen and pressure. Nutrition based on animo acids is another secret of success which is no longer so secret.
The NTC also offers 23 facilities beyond the capital although their regional distribution leaves something to be desired — of the 23, no less than 15 are in central Honshu and four in Hokkaido (for winter sports) while the island of Kyushu has only one and Shikoku none at all.
So at last something to criticize right at the end of the column but you can spend a long time studying the Tokyo bid without finding a single chink in the armour. The Japanese candidacy next month carries the single handicap of having held the Games before wben the IOC loves to break new ground but Tokyo has all the answers.