TOKYO (AP) — With preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics looming, Japan will be building for the future by sending a strong contingent to the Asian Games.
From marathoner Naoko Takahashi to judoka Ryoko Tamura and swimmer Kosuke Kitajima, Japan has seen numerous Olympic gold medalists kick off their careers at the Asian Games and is hoping many future starts emerge from the Sept. 19-Oct.4 event in Incheon, South Korea.
“Over the years, many famous Japanese athletes have launched their careers at the Asian Games,” said Tsuyoshi Aoki, chef de mission of the Japanese delegation at Incheon. “With our preparations for Tokyo 2020 underway, we see these games as a great opportunity to develop our athletes of the future.”
A total of 715 athletes will represent Japan, with swimming and track and field providing the bulk of the delegation.
In the pool, 20-year-old swimmer Kosuke Hagino, who should be hitting his prime when Tokyo hosts the Olympics, will be counted on to help Japan challenge powerhouse China.
Hagino, who beat Michael Phelps in the 200 medley final at the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia last month, is entered in six individual events at Incheon and will be a gold medal contender in most of them.
Other swimmers to watch are Pan Pacific backstroke gold medalist Ryosuke Irie and Yasuhiro Koseki, who won gold in the 100- and 200-breaststroke last month in Australia.
Four-time Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima failed to meet the qualifying standard in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke when he finished third at the Japan Open this summer.
In athletics, dual 100- and 200-meter national record holder Chisato Fukushima and Berlin World Championships javelin bronze medalist Yukifumi Murakami are among Japan’s top medal contenders.
Yuki Kawauchi, who has earned the nickname “Citizen Runner” because he works as a municipal employee in Saitama Prefecture while pursuing his marathon career, will be among Japan’s best hopes for a medal in men’s marathon.
Teenage sprinter Yoshihide Kiryu is doubtful for the Games after injuring his left hamstring, the Japan Association of Athletics Federations said.
The 18-year-old Kiryu, bidding to be the first from his country to run 100 in under 10 seconds, was injured in a 200-meter race in Japan earlier this month.
Japan is also expecting big medal hauls in judo and women’s wrestling. The country that invented judo failed to get a single gold medal in the men’s event at the London Olympics, so head coach Kosei Inoue will be looking for rising stars in Incheon.
The 22-year-old Takeshi Ojitani is a top contender in the 100-kilogram class. He has drawn comparisons with both Inoue, who won gold in the 100 KG division at the Sydney Olympics, and 2004 Olympic gold medalist Keiji Suzuki.
Saori Yoshida, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in women’s wrestling, just won her 12th consecutive title at the world championships. She will be bidding for her fourth straight gold medal at the Asian Games.
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