Yokohama City, Kawasaki City, and Keio University will host the pre-Games preparation camps of the British Olympic and Paralympic teams (Team GB and ParalympicsGB) for the Tokyo 2020 Games. With this in mind, we asked some of Japan’s top athletes and Olympic coaches to tell us what they expect to see from the British teams; in which events they felt they were strongest; and who will be their star athletes? This special Olympic Games Edition will go some way to answering all these questions, and more!
Strengths of the British gymnastics teams as seen through the eyes of a gold medal winner at Athens 2004
“The current British and Japanese gymnastics teams are, on the whole, very similar.”
So says Hisashi Mizutori, Head Coach for the Strengthening of the Men’s Gymnastics Team under the Japan Gymnastics Association, who was part of the Japanese national team that took home the gold medal in the team competition at Athens 2004, and who steered the Japanese national team to victory at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016 as coach. He is also an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Policy Management, Keio University. On the day we went to interview Mr. Mizutori, the Japanese national team was training intently at the Ajinomoto National Training Center, located in Kita-ku, Tokyo.
“What the British and Japanese national gymnastics teams have in common is that more and more young members are currently gaining places in the teams, replacing longstanding veterans. This, I believe, is a good thing, as it has brought a renewed sense of energy and vigor to both teams.”
He says that his belief that this was the case was reaffirmed during a visit to a Team GB training camp, held at Keio University Hiyoshi Campus.
“Having said this, of course everyone’s eyes are on veteran Max Whitlock MBE. In terms of stature, he’s the equivalent of Japan’s Kohei Uchimura,” he says.
Whitlock did not, unfortunately, take part in this training camp at Keio University. He has however previously led the British gymnastics team to a bronze medal in the team competition at London 2012, and to a fourth place finish at Rio 2016, where he claimed bronze in the Men’s artistic individual all-around competition, and gold medals in the individual pommel horse and individual floor exercise categories.
“Other members of the British gymnastics team currently making a name for themselves include James Hall and Nile Wilson. What’s so amazing about Britain is that, following on from London 2012, the year the Olympics was held there, it went on to increase its overall medals tally four years on at Rio, with a total of 67 medals, finishing second only to the United States. Britain also won a total of 7 medals in gymnastics, outstripping Japan by 3 medals. As a country, it is investing generously in its athletes, who receive funding from sources such as the National Lottery.”
The top five countries in world gymnastics are the United States, China, Russia, Great Britain, and Japan. “Judging from what I see this year, the teams of all these countries are shaping up nicely. Don’t forget though: Japan is strong too! What’s more, we are prepared to put up a fight!”
We ended by asking Mr. Mizutori what he thinks makes gymnastics so appealing to spectators.
“Gymnastics is unlike any other Olympic event, in the way that it is an individual event but also involves team competitions. Similarly, my hope is that people watching will gain an appreciation of the strength and beauty of gymnastics as a whole in addition to enjoying the hotly-contested events. The athletes also think on their feet in terms of the tactics they deploy, such as changing the pattern of their routines depending on the number of points they have at the time. Yes, gymnastics has a lot to offer.”
Rugby Sevens – another event in which the British teams shine
Kawasaki City will play host to the British rugby sevens teams. Both the England men’s and women’s teams were victorious in qualifiers held in July, and the Team GB (British teams) are set to appear in Tokyo 2020.
“I’m sure they will be dead set on winning at all costs, what with Britain being the birthplace of rugby sevens and the pride this entails.”
This is the opinion of Wataru Murata, coach for Senshu University Rugby Football Club. Mr. Murata is a former rugby player with 41 caps for Japan and a former coach of the Japan national rugby sevens team.
Fiji is said to have the best rugby sevens team in the world, and it won the gold medal when rugby sevens was first introduced at Rio 2016. However, Team GB came in second with the silver medal. Other strong nations include South Africa, which took bronze, and New Zealand. Japan as well put up a good fight at Rio, coming in fourth and beating New Zealand during the group stages.
“One of the difficult things about rugby sevens is that it is not possible to have fixed team members, as some of the members also play on rugby union teams. This is why it is too early at the moment to get a full picture of Team GB.”
Having said this, Mr. Murata tells us that Team GB is traditionally big-built and excels at physical play, and also manifests its strengths through set plays and line-outs, etc.
We asked Mr. Murata to pick someone out of the team who he believes to be a key player.
Dan Norton, without a doubt. Not only is he an amazing try scorer, but he is also conspicuously fast at running. His speed over short distances is particularly impressive, on par with a 100 m runner. For instance, according to data I have in my possession, Dan is even faster that legendary runner Usain Bolt up to a distance of 40 m.”
According to Mr. Murata’s data, Usain Bolt’s and Dan Norton’s compare as follows:
20 m Bolt: 2.89 sec. Norton: 2.70 sec.
40 m Bolt: 4.64 sec. Norton: 4.62 sec.
As 7 people have to run around the same-sized ground as with rugby union matches, it is rugby but with a different twist.
“Compared with rugby union, the magnificent footwork of individual players and long and accurate passes are much more important. When watching, pay attention to things like this to get the most enjoyment out of rugby sevens. Team GB is extremely accurate at kicking and passing the ball, and the position of their line-outs is really high, which makes it very interesting.”
It is a fast and furious sport, where players battle it out over two seven minute halves. Moreover, the same team plays several games over the course of a day. Mr. Murata points out that while of course the games themselves are interesting to watch, another fun aspect is how fans often come dressed in flamboyant costumes, especially at Hong Kong Sevens. With the stadium packed with people wearing pink and gold afro wigs and colorful costumes, the spectators add a fun vibe to the venue, creating an atmosphere quite different to that of rugby union.
So how about lending your support to the team in your very own British-themed costume?
One of the frontrunners in Tokyo 2020! Yuko Takahashi’s thoughts on Great Britain of the triathlon
The final event we will look at today is the triathlon, a sport familiar to those from Yokohama, the city which plays host to the iconic ITU World Triathlon Yokohama. We asked triathlon runner Yuko Takahashi, who many hope to see earn a place at Tokyo 2020, about the current situation surrounding triathlons in Great Britain.
Ms. Takahashi began competing in triathlons while still at primary school, and has since gone on to win many titles.
“I entered Toho Girls’ Junior and Senior High School in Chofu, Tokyo, where I was a member of the athletics club. In my 3rd year at school, I won a national race for juniors, which spurred me on to begin competing in triathlons seriously.
From 2017, I became in involved in a multinational triathlon team, and moved abroad, where I lived and trained alongside fellow teammates from all over the world under a coach. I have been competing in numerous events, especially the World Triathlon Series, with my sights set on a place at Tokyo 2020.”
During the 10th anniversary World Triathlon Series, held in May 2019 in Yokohama, she finished 4th, the highest ever position for a Japanese national.
Ms. Takahashi says she visits the United Kingdom almost every year to take part in international competitions.
“I really enjoy racing in Britain, as triathlons have a keen following there, and the races are always very lively.”
She also told us that British racers are very welcoming yet strong runners, and that there are many whom she admires.
“Racers there are so friendly and ready to greet everyone with a smile, but once the race starts, they become very aggressive, and I really wonder about the secret behind their strength.”
We asked Ms. Takahashi to single out some triathlon runners she particularly admires.
– Georgia Taylor-Brown
Cycling and running are her strengths, and she has stood on the winner’s podium many times during World Series.
– Non Stanford
Running is her forte. As an athlete, she is very tough.
– Vicky Holland
She was champion of last year’s World Series and won a medal at the Rio 2016.
She says that while triathlons are often described as grueling, as a sport there is a strong sense of achievement to be had at overcoming the obstacles, and that you can continue competing even as you get older. The true charm in triathlons, she believes, lies in the ability to compete while having fun.
“This sport consists of 3 separate events. What makes triathlons particularly interesting is how you have to switch modes and move on to the next event. This, I hope, people will enjoy watching most,” she says with a twinkle in her eye.
Gold medal winner in the team competition at the Athens Olympics. Took home the silver medal in 2005 in the men’s individual all-around at the World Gymnastics Championships in Melbourne, Australia. Was a member of the team which won the silver medal in the team event at the 2007 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, where he also took home three individual bronze medals in the all-around, the floor exercise, and the horizontal bar.
At 32 became the youngest ever Head Coach for the Strengthening of the Men’s Gymnastics Team under the Japan Gymnastics Association. Led the team to its first team gold in 37 years at the 2015 World Championships, and its first Olympic gold in 12 years at the Rio Olympics. Currently Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Policy Management, Keio University, and Head Coach for the Strengthening of the Men’s Gymnastics Team under the Japan Gymnastics Association. Also a member of the Standing Committee for the Strengthening of Athletes under the Japanese Olympic Committee.
Coach for Senshu University Rugby Football Club and former coach of the Japan national rugby sevens team.
He has played for teams including Toshiba Fuchu and Yamaha Júbilo. He earned 41 international caps for Japan. He became the first Japanese professional rugby union player when he signed a professional contract with Aviron Bayonnais of the French league. His position was scum-half. He completed the Master’s Program in Sports and Health Promotion, Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Sciences, University of Tsukuba. He obtained a Master’s Degree in Physical Education. He is a member of the screening committee for YAMAHA Motor Foundation for Sports. He serves as a sports advisor to Iwata City.
A triathlon athlete (or A Japanese professional triathlete). Affiliated with FUJITSU. She was accredited with JTU Elite status for the first period of 2019, and Women’s Elite status O-2. She studied at Toho Girls’ Junior and Senior High School, and at Hosei University.
Major results: 4th, 2019 ITU World Triathlon Series Yokohama; 5th in 2018 ITU World Triathlon Series Bermuda, SL Mallorca, and New Plymouth ITU Triathlon World Cup. Won the 2017 Palembang ASTC Triathlon Asian Championships (Indonesia), etc.
Yuko Takahashi Fan Club
It is now a mere year until the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games is set to kick off. In this issue, we got to know a little more about some of the athletes from Team GB and the events they will be taking part in courtesy of some of Japan’s finest athletes and coaches. As hosts, Yokohama City, Kawasaki City, and Keio University look forward to welcoming Britain’s top athletes to the pre-Games preparation camps of Team GB and ParalympicsGB between July and August 2020. We hope you will keep an eye on the GB teams and lend them your full support.
Interviews: Nobuko Kozu, GOGB column writer
Photos: Yoshikata Yamamoto and Takuhiro Kuriyama, GOGB column photographers