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Crews competing on the Sea Forest Waterway with the Tokyo Gate Bridge as a backdrop.

From August 7 to 11, the newly developed Sea Forest Park was home to the 2019 World Rowing Junior Championships, organized by the World Rowing Federation (FISA).

This is part of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee’s initiative – Ready, Set, Tokyo – to ensure that venues selected or built for the upcoming Summer Games are progressing well in terms of readiness. One of over 50 test events being held through May, 2020, the rowing test event is an actual world championship  for 18 years or younger. In this competition, approximately 550 athletes from fifty nations competed in this 5-day event.

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Looking west towards the start of the 2,000-meter course, with one of many planes taking off from Haneda Airport.

The name Sea Forest Park is a vision of what the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has for their property: a verdant forest on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. This waterway, designed for the rowing and canoeing competitions at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, forms a perfect rectangle, nestled between two pieces of reclaimed land and two connecting bridges. One of the few salt water regatta courses in the world, Sea Forest will continue to serve as a venue for rowing and canoeing competitions post Olympics.

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The competition on the sea, with a bit of the forest in the background.

I visited Sea Forest Park on the final day of the junior championships. And it was hot, the mid-day temperature hitting 34 degrees Centigrade (93 degrees Farenheit), with little green or shade in sight, particularly the grandstand at the finish line. There was one area for spectators off the grandstand where people could sit under a tent and view the competition on a large screen that broadcasted the races live.

This is a test event, so it’s likely that by the time the 2020 Olympics roll around, there will be more covered areas. In the meanwhile, there were opportunities to test a wide variety of things: the execution of races every 10 or 15 minutes, transportation of spectators to and from the Tokyo Teleport area of Odaiba, security allowing and stopping people from entering particular areas, awarding of medals and raising of flags.

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Rowing is a difficult sport to watch if you’re just a casual observer. The course is 2,000 meters long, which means that you’re staring off into the far distance trying to pick up the movement of very small boats. But as they get closer to  where the crowds are waiting, and the announcers’ voices, blaring through the speakers, informing us which boats are in front, the crowd noise grows. The spectators are there for their teams.

What I could observe, all went smoothly. More importantly, that is what FISA President, Jean-Christophe Rolland observed as well.

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We are the champions!

We are very proud to have this excellent new rowing course. The installations and fittings are remarkable. I would like to recognize the significant investment in this project.

Sea Forest Waterway_Google Maps
Sea Forest Waterway on Google Maps
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Screenshot from the 2020 Olympics Tokyo promotional video

I finally took a look at the promotional videos made by the cities vying for the 2020 Summer Games: Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid.

In my mind, Istanbul and Madrid’s Olympic committees focused on the cities, and thus their videos felt like the tourism promotion videos you might see on CNN. My views aren’t too different from those on this Reddit thread.

The theme of the Istanbul is “Shine Bright Like a Diamond”, the lyrics from Rihanna’s song, Diamonds – the mosques in sun and shadow, the sparkling harbor waters, bustling markets, mixed in with image of infrastructure, high-end shopping, and a very occasional sports reference.

Madrid’s campaign video is more comprehensive in what it showed: high speed rail, modern cityscapes and traditional architecture, universities, greenery, music and dance, shopping and nightlife. And there was even a smattering of sports: amateurs playing golf, on bikes, skateboarding, playing basketball, runners.

Tokyo’s theme was “Discover Tomorrow”, thoroughly vague. But the images are clearly on athletes, dominated by competitors at the London Olympics, as well as amateur athletes in Japan, interspersed with iconic locales of Tokyo. You feel the intensity of the athletes and the emotions of the spectators, the animated winged-heart providing a thematic visual throughout the video.

I’m biased I know. But the Tokyo promotional video is the best of the three.

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Screenshot from the Tokyo candidate city promotional video.

US team

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SIXProposed 2020 Olympic National Stadium Design Dropped Due to Pricetag: The $2 billion price tag for the new National Stadium in Tokyo proved to be too high. The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, faced down the president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and former prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, and send the committee back to the drawing board. This decision effectively removed the possibility of the stadium debuting for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

No Boston Olympics

FIVE – Both Hamburg and Boston Drop Out: Both Hamburg, Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, USA were selected by their respective national Olympic committees to bid for the 2024 Summer Games, but both ended pulling out after referendum votes indicated the Games would not be supported by the cities’ citizens. While the bid for the 2024 Games remain competitive, with Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome still in the running, the reputation of the Games for their high cost, facilities that serve little purpose after the Games, the disruption to business and everyday life to locals, among others, continues to grow.

US Women Celebrate 2015 World Cup Victory

FOURUS Defeats Japan to Win Women’s World Cup: US had beaten Japan in the Olympics, but Japan was the reigning World Cup Champion. US goes into Rio with hopes of winning their fourth consecutive Olympic championship. The US team currently has 11 Olympians who only know gold: Christie Rampone in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Abby Wambach in 2004 and 2012, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Amy Rodriguez, Hope Solo in 2008 and 2012, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn in 2012.

See this link for 13 through 15, 10 through 12, and 7 through 9.

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Japanese gymnast, Yukio Endo celebrates his gold medal victory in the parallel bars in 1964, with teammate Shuji Tsurumi, who won silver, in an era when the Japanese ruled in men’s gymnastics.

 

Officials in Japan are aiming for 16 gold medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

“Medals will encourage athletes,” Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo was quoted as saying in this November 27 Japan Times article. “It will be better to have a goal, so that the state can support (those who would be able to) offer hopes and dreams to children.”

Fifty-six years ago, on the eve of the start of the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, Kenkichi Oshima, head of the Japanese Olympic delegation, said basically the same thing, stating that Japan must win at least 15 gold medals as “an encouragement to this country’s upcoming generation.”

The Japanese team pulled in 16 gold medals in 1964, with the third highest medal haul in those games. It is common for the host country to do well in the medals race, but the Japanese team continued its success vis-a-vis other countries through the early 1980s, as you can see in this table.

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But as the number of countries rose, as did the level of competitiveness, Japan began to slip in the medal rankings between 1988 and 2000. With a renewed effort, Japan matched its 16 gold medals in Athens, and more recently in London grabbed 38 overall medals, more than it had ever done before.

Over the years, judo, gymnastics and wrestling have been Japan’s strongest competitive advantages, with assists from weightlifting and archery, but in recent years, Japan has become a power in swimming.

Is a target of 16 gold medals in 2020 reasonable for the third largest economy in the world? Rio in 2016 will give us a clue.

The Hachioji Velodrome in 1964, from the book
The Hachioji Velodrome in 1964, from the book “THE GAMES OF THE XVIII OLYMPIAD TOKYO 1964 – The Official Report of the Organizing Committee”

The Velodrome was in Hachioji, a suburban town in Tokyo where the cycling events were held in the 1964 Summer Games. About 43 kilometers from the Olympic Village, or about 70 minutes of travelling time in 1964 traffic, the Hachioji Velodrome was made of cement mortar, which was considered suitable for all kinds of weather….since the velodrome was outside…and it rained a lot. As it turns out, on October 19, the cycling events at the Velodrome were postponed because of rain.

As described in this blog post, the Hachioji Velodrome is long gone, a deserted baseball park in its place. Hachioji did make a bid to bring cycling back to its neck of the woods, but it was not to be. Earlier this month, the IOC finally settled on Izu as being the location of the 2020 Olympic cycling events.

The IOC and the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee have been trying to figure out a low-cost way to keep cycling events in the downtown Tokyo vicinity. The hope was to have cyclists race by the Tokyo Bay waterfront. But the cost of customizing temporary infrastructure in prime property was thought to be prohibitive, particularly in a time when the IOC is working closely with National Olympic committees to make the Olympics less of an economic burden on city governments and taxpayers.

The Izu Velodrome
The Izu Velodrome

Thus the decision to move the cycling events, which include track cycling, mountain biking and BMX, two hours away to Izu. Famous more for its hot spring resorts, Izu is also the location of an existing modern cycling velodrome. There will need to be additions made to seating capacity, but that cost will be covered by local cycling associations.

It isn’t so unusual to have events away from the Olympic Stadium. In 2020. the sailing events will take place in Enoshima, basketball in Saitama, fencing, taekwando and wrestling in Chiba. Which is fine. Let’s spread the Games around. It is just as much Japan’s Games as it is Tokyo’s.

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The Japan National Rugby Team wins three times at the World Rugby Championships in Gloucester, Scotland in October.

The surging love for rugby in Japan has been driven by the success of the Japan team, aka “The Brave Blossoms”, in the recent Rugby World Cup Championships in Gloucester, Scotland last month. The team’s three victories at the tournament drew attention to the fact that the next Rugby World Cup Championships will be held in Japan in 2019, a year before the 2020 Olympics, when rugby will continue as a participating sport after its Olympic debut in Rio in 2016.

But the rugby we watched at the Rugby World Cup Championships is significantly different from the rugby we will see at the Olympics. Rugby Union is the name of the sport that is challenged at the Rugby World Championships, and it requires 15 people aside. Rugby Sevens, which people will see at the Rio and Tokyo Olympics, place seven people aside, even though the size of the field for both sports are the same: 100 meters long by 70 meters wide.

Thus, Rugby Sevens is faster. On the same size pitch, you can imagine that it is easier to defend with 15 people on the field as opposed to 7, which is what Rugby Sevens, appropriately named, requires. So instead of getting pushed, pulled, banged, tripped and generally hit every meter of the way in a Rugby Union match, you have open spaces, breakaways and sprints in a Rugby Sevens match. Instead of the bulky, squarish hulks you tend to see in a Rugby Union match, you’ll see muscular but lither athletes who can run world-class sprinting times.

Rugby Sevens is also shorter in duration. Rugby Union plays its matches in 40-minute halves, closer to the duration of soccer and NFL football games, while Rugby Sevens’ games are made up of 7-minute halves, or 10-minute halves for championships rounds. In other words, Rugby Seven matches finish in the amount of time it takes to play half a Rugby Union match. And fans and casual fans alike have taken occasional jabs at the seemingly slow pace of scrums in Rugby Union matches, where a large number of heavy athletes wrap arms in a pile that seem to do little but kill time.

Because of the above differences, the scoring in Rugby Sevens are perceived to come fast and furiously. Just watch this video compilation of scores made by the Rugby Seven speedster, Carlin Isles.

Now if you want me to further confuse, I could attempt to explain the difference between Rugby Union and Rugby League (and their 13 aside rules)…but I will not attempt a try.

Yoichi Masuzoe, Governor of Tokyo, speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce
Yoichi Masuzoe, Governor of Tokyo, speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce

Yoichi Masuzoe was in his first year of high school, and a competitive sprinter in the 100 meters, running it in 11 seconds. And he remembers watching the Tokyo Olympics on television. And like the uplifting spectacle of the wedding between Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko in 1959, the Olympics raised the spirits of a nation, including the future governor of Tokyo.

On September 24, 2015, Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, gave a talk for the American Chamber of Commerce of Japan called “City for the Ages: The Magnetism of Tokyo in 2020 and Beyond.” I had never seen the Tokyo governor speak before, but he was definitely in full pitch mode, charming the packed room with the greatness of the food and drink in Japan, which almost everybody in the audience already had an appreciation for. It was the governor’s vision of Tokyo as a pedestrian and biker paradise that raised eyebrows and hopes.

He remembers the brightness of the Tokyo Games, but he also remembers the dust of the construction and the shadows created by the highways that started to snake through the city. He bemoaned what he called the “motorization” of Tokyo, how the smaller rivers were filled by rubble from the war, covered over by roads. As governor of Tokyo, what he pledged to the audience was a drive for the “de-motorization” of Tokyo. He said he would push for a significant increase in bicycle lanes, as well a plan like Boris Bikes in London. He said he would push for the elimination of the highways he believes blight the center of the city.

The Edobashi Interchange 1964, from
The Edobashi Interchange 1964, from “The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”

He said that the city of Tokyo today, with its highways, its loss of riverways, and its roads packed with cars, was due to an infatuation with money. Making money is important, he emphasized to the chamber of commerce members. But he emphasized that the pursuit of money should not come at the expense of time – time to enjoy a cup of coffee in a more pedestrian-friendly Shibuya, time to have a satisfying family life and a successful career, particularly for women, time to walk, bike and even boat around the safest, cleanest metropolis in the world.

It’s a lofty vision. It’s an Olympian vision. Will the Tokyo governor get us there? Visit us in 2020 and see for yourself!

Hiroshi Hase, wrestler and minister
Hiroshi Hase, Olympian, wrestler and Minster of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology

He was a teacher in classic Japanese literature. He was an Olympian, competing in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1984 Olympiad in Los Angeles. He had a long and successful career as a pro wrestler, starting his career in Puerto Rico, Canada and the Soviet Union before becoming a star in Japan, particularly in his tag team performances with Kensuke Sasaki. Towards the end of a storied career in wrestling, Hiroshi Hase ( ) followed in the footsteps of his mentor, Antonio Inoki, by being elected into the Upper House of the Japanese Diet in 2005, as an independent in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Which brings us to today.

Today, Hase is the head of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. And in the Japanese bureaucracy, it is the sub-departments in this Ministry that make decisions regarding the Olympic Games. And Hase has already stated that he intends to push hard for the protection of the rights of the LGBT community in Japan, using the Olympics as a platform.

“Let me be clear on this: I believe sexual-minority students at elementary and junior high schools have been left out” to the extent that people around them, including teachers, friends and family, have little understanding of the issues they face, said Hiroshi Hase, a few days ago in this Japan Times article.

In another Japan Times article from 7 months ago, Hase was quoted as saying that the Sochi Olympics were a lesson for us all, hearing that many Western leaders did not attend the opening ceremonies due to the openly hostile attitude towards the LGBT community in Russia.

As a four-time Olympic host, Japan has the responsibility of calling for social change through sports, Hase said.

Is the bureaucracy in Japan ready for this? Skepticism reigns, but optimism can conquer.

There are five more years before the Olympics come to Tokyo, but the commercials have begun. In these early stages, a few themes have emerged. Nomura and Yomiuri emphasize Excellence, while Sumitomo Mitsui Bank and NEC appeal to the Everyman who pursue excellence. Another theme is how the Olympics brings the world together, as does JAL in this case. And finally, there will be plenty of ways to spoof the majesty and drama of the Olympic Games, as does the recruiting company, Sanko. These are all in Japanese, but I think you will get the gist.

The securities company, Nomura, cuts to the essence of why Olympians work so hard, to the point of tears – Because they have a dream.

Yomiuri Shimbun, an established media company, focuses on how the very best emerge from competition, and that the success of the very best has the subsequent support of that competition, and that champions should be grateful for that support.

Sumitomo Mitsui Bank appeals to the everyday person by explaining that it isn’t just the Olympic athlete who gives it their all, we all do in our daily lives as well.

NEC, a large electronics and systems company stresses the pursuit of excellence in Olympic athletes and non-athletes alike.

The largest airline in Japan displays its long history with the Olympics, how it brought the