Hakuba to launch winter sports academy to foster young athletes

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Hakuba Ski Jumping Stadium, the venue for the 1998 Nagano Olympics, is seen in Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture, in January.

The village of Hakuba in Nagano Prefecture will launch a project in fiscal 2023 to train promising young athletes in combined winter sports events, utilizing sports facilities built for the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Hakuba has produced many Olympians, including Akito Watabe, who won a bronze medal in the individual large hill Nordic skiing combined event at the Beijing Olympics on Feb. 15.

“If more athletes like Watabe can compete on the international stage, the village will become more vibrant,” a village official said.

This spring, two third-year junior high school students are expected to be recruited for the first term of the tentatively named Elite Academy.

The students will be selected on the basis of their athletic skills and performance in competitions. To gain admittance, they will also have to pass the entrance examination for Hakuba High School.

The academy students will live together in a dormitory housed in a renovated Japanese inn and other buildings, and will receive instruction from Japan’s national team coaches.

In addition to training on the jumping hill and cross-country facilities that were venues for the Nagano Games, the academy students will also focus on their studies, such as learning English, which is essential for overseas trips.

The village, Hakuba High School and the Ski Association of Japan are working together on the project. A general incorporated association will be established by the end of March to manage the academy. The plan is to use corporate sponsorship as the main funding for operating expenses.

Nagano Mayor Kenji Ogiwara, who won gold medals at the 1992 Albertville and 1994 Lillehammer Olympics in Nordic skiing combined team events, stressed the importance of the project for developing young talent, saying, “Powerful countries are making national efforts to nurture the younger generation, but Japan is relying on teachers who are too busy with schoolwork.”

The Japanese Olympic Committee has been running an elite academy program since 2008, in which top-notch coaches guide athletes selected from junior and senior high school students across the country.

The Japan Skating Federation also opened an elite speed skating academy in Obihiro, Hokkaido, in April last year.