The Japanese Olympic delegation acquired a record 41 medals -- 12 gold, eight silver, and 21 bronze -- during the Rio Olympics, which drew to a successful close on Aug. 21. Riding on this strong showing, Japan is now looking forward to the 2020 Tokyo Games, in which the country is expected to aim for even more medals under a national policy to bolster its athletes.
While the Rio Games suffered from many empty seats and operational mishaps, the International Olympic Committee enjoyed brisk sales of broadcasting rights, its main revenue source from the Games.
Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) President Tsunekazu Takeda lauded the Japanese athletes' achievements, saying, "They've had great success, showing a positive sign for the 2020 Tokyo Games." The number of medals Japan won at Rio broke its own record of 38 set at the 2012 London Games -- seven gold, 14 silver and 17 bronze.
After the country suffered a major setback in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where Japan won a mere 14 medals -- three gold, six silver and five bronze, the JOC became desperate. The results in Atlanta tied for a record low since the 1964 Tokyo Games, for which the country began full-scale efforts to strengthen domestic athletes. Olympians' levels worldwide dramatically improved since the 1992 Barcelona Games, in which a ban on professional athletes competing in the Olympics was completely lifted.
An alarmed JOC drew up a strategy to improve global competitiveness, called "The JOC Gold Plan," in 2001 and started to train junior athletes and coaches while calling for government support. That same year, the government opened the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences in Tokyo at a cost of 27 billion yen to support athletes from the perspectives of medical science and information strategies. The Ajinomoto National Training Center (NTC) was also launched in 2008 at a cost of 37 billion yen.
Judo coach Kosei Inoue managed to revive Japan's glory by bringing medals in all weight classes in men's judo at Rio after the country failed to win gold in the event at London for the first time. Inoue studied the art of coaching in Britain for two years from January 2009 after retiring as a judoka, using the JOC's overseas training program. After returning to Japan, Inoue reformed the country's judo with his scientific knowledge acquired in Britain and the addition of global trends as judo has become a worldwide sport.
In women's badminton doubles, Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo won Japan's first ever gold medal in the event. This success owes much to the annual 200-day training camps at the NTC led by South Korean coach Park Joo-bong, who was invited from the badminton superpower to bolster Japanese players after the 2004 Athens Olympics, where Japan achieved only one victory despite sending 11 badminton players to the Games.
Jun Mizutani, who captured Japan's first Olympic medal in table tennis singles with a bronze, also underwent systematic training by the Japan Table Tennis Association and joined the NTC camps since his elementary school days.
"To sum it up, it costs money to reinforce athletes under the current high standards," said a JOC executive in the wake of the medal rush from the government-funded training facilities. The comment implies that the quality of individual athletes and the knowledge of some coaches alone are not enough to achieve such a feat.
With the Tokyo Olympics only four years away, sport-related budgets for fiscal 2016 soared to a record 32.4 billion yen and budgets for strengthening Japan's top athletes rose by 1.3 billion yen to 8.7 billion yen from a year earlier. Public jubilation over Japan's medal streak at Rio is set to spur the government to accelerate its policy of churning out medal hopefuls for the 2020 Games.