Spartan_Emily 3
Emily Downey

Bear crawl under barbed wire. Scramble over a 2-meter wall. Climb a rope 5 meters, hand over hand. Flip a 100 kg tire. Get a strong grip and hoist a pack weighing 50 kilograms up about 10 meters. Lug a heavy bucket for what seems forever to many.  Jump into mud, run through fire, exert your body and your will to its fullest…for what?

According to Emily Downey, Managing Director of Global Partnerships for Spartan Japan, it’s about the camaraderie, the sustainable boost to confidence, and ultimately a lifestyle that contributes to better health, and a greater chance of living a longer, more satisfying life. Spartan Race makes that happen.

Downey gave a talk at the American Chamber of Commerce Japan on November 6, 2018 entitled “Spartan: The Business of Selling Mud, Barbed Wire, and Fire – Creating a Multi-million Dollar Sports Brand in Japan in Less than 2 Years”.

Spartan_Emily

Spartan Race is the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand in the world, with over 1.2 million enthusiasts competing in over 200 races in over 40 countries. It is the fastest growing obstacle race, if not one of the fastest growing sports in the world. And Spartan races in Japan have been a turbo engine to the company’s global success.

Founded in 2010 in the US by Joe De Sena, a born entrepreneur and former Wall Street trader, Spartan Race established itself in Japan in 2016, thanks to circumstances that brought De Sena and Downey together in Tokyo. Thirty minutes into an initial meet-and-greet, the two immediately started making plans for Spartan’s first race in Japan.

Two years later, Spartan Race Japan is hugely successful and garners the highest ATV (average ticket value) in the world for Spartan. Additionally, thanks to Downey’s initiative, Spartan secured Spartan’s largest global partnership to date – The giant Japanese brand Rakuten, which runs the largest e-commerce platform by sales in Japan. This global partnership provides Spartan Race, in addition to financial support,  the ability to more powerfully leverage Rakuten’s digital and marketing services. The partnership also provides Rakuten with access to the massive markets of middle America, as the Rakuten logo will be seen on over a million race ‘Finisher’ shirts, as well as in Facebook livestreams of races.

Rakuten values the highly-educated, high income and diverse demographics of Spartan Race participants, making Spartan Race Rakuten’s third significant sports global partnership, after the vaunted global brands of La Liga’s FC Barcelona and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

At the heart of Spartan Race’s business model is the ability for organizers to engage participants in life-changing ways. Overcoming our fear of trying new things, of attempting activities that are perceived to result in failure, or even pain, is a significant part of Spartan Race’s value proposition. Through a series of challenging but achievable activities laid out across a race course in a natural open vista or a closed Stadium grounds, the organizers and its countless evangelists exhort and cajole their fellow Spartans to push themselves to climb that wall, to keep carrying that weight, to keep their eyes on the goal.

Spartan_Emily 4

Initially Downey wondered if Spartan Race could be replicated in Japan. “I was told the Japanese, particularly Japanese women, hate mud, that the Japanese just won’t do mud! The bucket carry – that’s really hard. Japanese won’t do it. I was told I was crazy to do Spartan in Japan. But the reality is, the Japanese love it. They learn like everyone else that after you achieve all that, you’re just not the same person, you have changed.”

Spartan Race is about finding levels of confidence one never though were possible. Children from the age of 5 compete. Men and women in their 70’s and 80’s compete. The disabled compete.

Spartan_Marla
Marley Sweeney

Marla Sweeney is 73 years old and has a litany of health issues, as well as artificial vertebrae implanted after being run over by a drunk driver in 2006. And yet Sweeney, inspired by her son who competed in Spartan, decided to try it, and trotted to complete a three-mile Spartan race in 2015. Since that time, she has been unstoppable, completing another 15 spartan races. And as a result, arthritic pains have washed away, as did bouts of depression.

“It’s a passion, it’s addicting and the world is brighter,” she told Runner’s World.

Kacey McCallister lost his legs at the age of six after being hit by an 18-wheel truck. Surviving was one thing. Living was another. As he relates in this video, if his mother treated him like an invalid, he would become an invalid. McCallister liked sports, but couldn’t find the right avenue…until he discovered Spartan. People thought he was crazy to even consider an obstacle race like Spartan, but he went right at it, competing for the first time in a 9-mile race, on his hands.

“When people doubt me, when people tell me I can’t do something, that fires me up. That gets me going. In fact, in this recent Spartan run, my wife said this was going to kill me.  That makes me want to do it even more.”

McCallister completed the race and many more after. And he discovered the essence of his achievement, a lesson that applies not just to he disabled, but to all people.

Disability is in your mind. People out there with a totally functioning body have this mental block. That’s all it is for anybody. It’s a mental block that says I can’t do something because….. Sure there’s a lot of people out there in wheel chairs who think,  “Oh, I can’t do it, so I’m going to stay home and play Halo for eight hours a day. They can. You have to figure out a way.

Downey explained that the ripped athletes who look like they can conquer a Spartan race in their sleep, her so-called 1% of the population, are not the ones who ‘win’ the race. She said it’s the 99% who do – the housewife, the grandfather, the office worker, the casual sportsman. She has come to understand that winning the race is not the goal for so many, that in fact, the goal is realizing the potential within, a potential that many didn’t realize even lingered inside.

In fact, Downey challenges everyone to get off the couch, and tells them they’re not “special,” that they too can do so much more. “People participate in Spartan, gain confidence, and learn they can improve their lives.” More importantly, Downey notes, the results of achieving in a Spartan Race have longer-term implications, beyond the medals. “People say that money, family, children – these are the most important things. But really, health is. Without health you won’t have any of the other important things. Spartans treat their bodies well.  They don’t dump a lot of bad stuff in it.”

In fact, as obesity continues to grow as a global health threat, De Sena calls Spartan Race “a public service.”

This is not even a business. We have no choice but to do this and convince people to start getting healthy. This is not a want to do, this is a have to do.

Tokyo 2020 Registration Page
The registration process is all in Japanese.

Tickets for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be available from the Spring of 2019.

IF you are a resident of Japan, you could register in advance through the tokyo2020.jp site, which would get you advanced information on how and when tickets actually go on sale.

The challenge for non-Japanese, unfortunately, is that the registration process and communications are all in Japanese only. The only information outside what’s provided by the English-language press is this page on the Tokyo2020 site that announces the proposed range of ticket prices.

So, if you can read and write Japanese, and you have a physical address in Japan, here are the steps:

  1. Go to this site: https://id.tokyo2020.jp/
  2. Input your email address
  3. When you get an email from Tokyo 2020, click on the link to aregistration page
  4. Input your address, phone number, password etc
  5. Pick your favorite Olympic events
  6. Pick your favorite Paralympic events
  7. Get confirmation email from Tokyo 2020

For those outside Japan, keep your eyes open for announcements in the Spring of 2019. The online site for the Japan travel agency, JTB, may be your best bet to buy via the internet.

As the announcement states, “ticket prices and the application process will vary from country to country, although the structure will be broadly in line with that for tickets purchased in Japan.”

For detailed information in English, go here.

Good luck!

PyeongChang Weater Feb 1

It’s a week away. I’m so excited. I’m getting chills.

I will be in South Korea for the opening ceremonies of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, with the world’s best winter sports athletes, world leaders, celebrities, the North Korean cheering squad and 35,000 other participants….freezing our butts off.

I routinely look at the weather app on my iPhone for the temperature in the area of the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, and it’s always minus-something celsius. In fact, over the past ten years, the average temperature of this northern part of South Korea is -5.8 Celsius.

And because the Olympic Stadium was built without a roof – to save costs – there are fears that the cutting winds of that area will give the “lucky” spectators a chance to sit for 4-5 hours in a wind chill of -12 degrees. This may not be healthy. According to this article, six people were treated for hypothermia at a concert they attended in the Olympic Stadium in November, 2017.

In order to prevent the mountain winds from sweeping through the stadium, organizers have built a wall 3.5 meters high, that circles around the stadium for 350 meters, which they hope will keep the wind chill down. They will also hand out blankets and heat packs to each of the participants. You can bet I will have those little instant heat packs all over my very layered body.

Here is one of a great set of FAQs on the PyeongChang Olympics from the Associated Press:

Q:  What’s the weather like?

A:  Bundle up. Gangwon Province is one of the country’s coldest places. The wind is brutal, and the stadium for the nighttime opening and closing ceremonies is open air and has no heating system. Locals make it a matter of pride not to complain about daily wintertime life, but visitors risk misery if they’re unprepared.

Fortunately, misery loves company…and maybe 35,000 people together can bring the heat!

Erin Hamlin
Erin Hamlin, women’s luge

I enjoy talking to Olympians, people who have dedicated a good chunk of their lives to unlocking the secrets to even higher performance. The TeamUSA site published this article that shares the insight of American Olympians who have competed in multiple Winter Olympics or Paralympics. The way I would summarize their advice:

  • Learn from Experience and Your Mistakes
  • Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss
  • Don’t Let the Moment Define You

 

Learn from Experience and Your Mistakes

Successful athletes will often view failures and mistakes as positives. Thomas Edison famously responded that he never failed when developing the light bulb. “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Erin Hamlin is a three-time Olympian in the women’s luge at the 2006 Torino Olympics, 2010 Vancouver Olympics and, finally stepping up to the medal podium with a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics had this to say about failure. “The more bad runs you have, the more ways you know how it didn’t work,” she said. “You can take that and figure out how to do it right.”

Ted Ligety_alpine skier
Ted Ligety, alpine skier

Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss

At some point, you can get too much advice on how to succeed at the Olympics, or in any high-pressure moment. Two-time gold medalist in alpine skiing, Ted Ligety, thinks that it’s important for people to not think too much, and trust in yourself and abilities may be the best advice for athletes stepping on the big stage for the first time.

“I wouldn’t have that much advice for myself,” said Ligety when asked what he would say to himself if he could go back to 2006. “Being a little naïve back then was a good thing.”

Don’t Let the Moment Define You

Oksana Masters
Oksana Masters

 

Oksana Masters is a summer and winter Paralympian in nordic skiing, rowing and cycling, and felt the pressure early in her career. “Oh my gosh, everyone single person is watching, and it’s the biggest race, and if you mess up, it’s over.” But her advice to others would be to just treat the big race as just another training session.

Kelly Clark is a four-time Olympian, who has won gold and two bronze medals in the halfpipe since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, said that the competition in the Olympics is merely one moment in your long life. “We can get wrapped up in four years of intensity for 30 seconds [of performing on the Olympic stage], and we make it into something that defines us, we make it into a destination,” she said. “You don’t need to make it a destination or something where you need a T-shirt that says, ‘I survived the Olympic Games,’” she said. “Instead, think, ‘I got to do this wonderful sport.’”

Perhaps the most practical advice came from Masters about packing so much clothes for the Olympics. “You’ll never use them.”

Kelly Clark snowboarder

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 1
Musashino Forest Sports Plaza on the left, and Ajinomoto Stadium on the right

It was a cold and desolate Sunday when I walked around the grounds of the new Musashino Forest Sports Plaza. Located a short walk away from Tobitakyu Station on the Keio Line, the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza is right next to Ajinomoto Stadium, the home of the J-League Division 1 soccer team, F. C. Tokyo.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza google maps

There were no events scheduled at either the Sports Plaza of Ajinomoto Stadium on the January afternoon I visited, but come July 2020, this quiet area of Chofu, very near the American School in Japan where my son went to high school, will be filled with thousands of noisy fans. The Musashino Forest Sports Plaza opened on November 27, 2017, the first of eight new permanent Tokyo 2020 venues to be completed. The Plaza will host badminton and pentathlon fencing in the 2020 Olympics, as well as wheelchair basketball during the 2020 Paralympics.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 3
View of the Main Arena on the left background, the sub-arena with its pool and gym on the right background, with a track and field in the foreground.

According to this article, the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza is built to serve the community long after the Olympics end. The facilities include a swimming pool, a gym, a multi-use sports area and two fitness studios which are available to the public. The roof of the facilities are made up of solar panels, to help provide a more sustainable energy source.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 2
Main Arena and its solar panel roof

And in line with Tokyo2020 Accessibility Guidelines, “the facility designed to be accessible to all, including the elderly, people with impairments, parents with infant strollers and those with guide dogs. The main arena has space for wheelchairs, and the space is designed with enough height difference between the rows of seating to ensure that those in wheelchairs can see clearly, even if spectators in front of them stand up.”

Ajinomoto Stadium will also host matches in the soccer competition during Tokyo 2020, and will be called Tokyo Stadium during the Olympics in accordance with its non-commercialization policy.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 4

 

National Stadium design_Kengo Kuma 2
Kengo Kuma’s design for the Tokyo 2020 National Stadium

 

936 more days to go until the Opening Ceremonies of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Here are a few of my favorite stories and thoughts on Tokyo2020.

 

2020 Mascot Candidates
Tokyo 2020 Mascot Candidates

 

Penn Alumni at Meji Jingu_25Nov_8
On a tour of Meiji Shrine.

 

I have lived in Japan for over 16 years, and I still have so much to learn – what an amazing people, history and culture. I hope an article or two in this list give you some insight into Japan.

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Ted Mittet surrendering his American team’s cowboy hat, gifted by President Johnson to the male Olympians