Published: Monday July 2, 2012 MYT 8:28:00 AM
Olympics: 2020 vision as Japan eye record haul
TOKYO: Japan are dreaming of a record medal haul at the London Olympics as they aim to "pump up" their bid to host the 2020 Games and lift a nation battling the aftermath of a crippling earthquake disaster.
Officials are targeting at least 15 golds, one off Japan's best ever, but chef de mission Haruki Uemura says Japan can achieve much more - and give Tokyo an edge over Madrid and Istanbul in the race for the 2020 edition.
"If our athletes give all they have, it will be possible for them to get 18-20 gold medals," Uemura told a meeting of national team coaches.
Twenty titles would have placed Japan fourth on the medals table at Beijing 2008, when they tallied nine to finish eighth overall. Japan's best showing so far has been 16 in 1964 and 2004.
Uemura's optimism is inspired partly by Japan's women's World Cup football win last July, which provided relief from the misery of March's quake, tsunami and nuclear tragedy which left 19,000 people dead.
"Techniques will make up for physical disadvantages," he said, referring to the 'Nadeshiko' team's surprise victory over the taller United States team in the final.
Women's football has now joined Japan's traditional areas of strength: judo, wrestling, gymnastics and swimming. Uemura also expects Japan to medal in athletics, sailing and shooting.
"We must let the people see our fighting attitude after the unprecedented disaster," said Uemura, head of the All-Japan Judo Federation. "We hope to bring courage to the disaster area by showing Japan's underlying strength."
However, the lofty expectation jars with a forecast by the Japanese Olympic Committee's (JOC) own commission of technical development, which could name only six athletes as gold-medal favourites.
Among them are swimmer Kosuke Kitajima, who is seeking a third straight men's 100m and 200m breaststroke double, and gymnast Kohei Uchimura who won an unprecedented third straight world all-around title last year.
Women wrestlers Saori Yoshida and Kaoru Icho are also aiming for a third straight Olympic title in the 55kg and 63kg respectively.
In judo, the main source of gold medals for Japan, lightweight women Tomoko Fukumi (48kg) and Misato Nakamura (52kg) are seen as certain to triumph on the London mats.
Koji Murofushi, the 2004 Olympic hammer champion, is a strong contender at 37 after winning world gold last year. And the Nadeshiko can become the first team to hold the women's world and Olympic football titles at the same time.
A strong performance in London is seen as vital in raising public support for the 2020 bid, after tepid enthusiasm was cited as a reason when Tokyo lost out to Rio de Janeiro in bidding for the 2016 Games.
An International Olympic Committee survey showed that the rate of public support was 47 percent for Tokyo, against 73 and 78 percent for 2020 rivals Istanbul and Madrid. The host city will be announced in September next year.
JOC vice president Noriyuki Ichihara said Japan's long-term goal was to finish third in 2020 - and on home soil.
"We want to use London as one step toward that goal and pump up Japan," he said. "If we succeed, it will help the Olympic bid gain further momentum not only in Tokyo but also throughout Japan."
An online survey of 1,000 adults by the business daily Nikkei also showed 31 percent expected Japan to win no more than five gold medals, while 48 percent predicted six to nine, suggesting pessimism over Japan's chances in London. - AFP