Japan Olympic Athletes Gather for Official Launch Ceremony; Later Attend Send-Off Party with 6,000 Fans

Yomiuri Shimbun photo
Shigeyuki Nakarai, left, speaks as fellow flagbearer Misaki Emura looks on at the official launch ceremony for Japan’s Olympic team at Tokyo’s Yoyogi No. 2 Gym on Friday afternoon.

With three weeks to go before the start of the Paris Olympics, Japan’s athletes gathered for the traditional ceremony to launch the national delegation on Friday in Tokyo, with Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko in attendance.

“I hope you will be able to fully demonstrate [in Paris] what you achieve daily,“ Crown Prince Akishino said in opening remarks at the ceremony at Yoyogi No. 2 Gymnasium in Shibuya Ward. “It is my wish that you deepen exchanges with other athletes gathering from around the world and promote international goodwill.”

The two athletes chosen as flagbearers for the opening ceremony, women’s fencer Misaki Emura and men’s breaker Shigeyuki Nakarai, declared their resolve in addresses to their fellow team members.

“I will fight fair and square until the very end,” said Emura, 25, while Nakarai, 22, said, “I pledge to put forth my best performance.” Both are regarded as gold-medal contenders.

The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) expects the Paris delegation to number over 400 athletes, making it the largest for an overseas Summer Olympics. The previous high was 339 at the 2008 Beijing Games.

The JOC has set a target of winning 20 gold medals, which would exceed the previous best at an overseas Olympics of 16 won in Athens in 2004.

Later, a send-off party was held at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Shibuya Ward, attended by about 6,000 people including students from local elementary and junior high schools and general sports fans.

The Paris-bound athletes used the opportunity to express their appreciation to those who have supported their efforts.

Judo’s Hifumi Abe, who will be aiming to repeat as gold medalist in the men’s 66-kilogram division, said, “The tremendous support I receive gives me power. I will go into it without forgetting what it is like to be the challenger and be well prepared.”

Swimmer Tomoru Honda, a silver medalist in the men’s 200-meter butterfly at the Tokyo Olympics, said, “I want to repay all those who helped me by giving my best.”

Wrestler Akari Fujinami, the reigning world champion in the women’s 53-kilogram weight class and a solid gold medal favorite, commented, “I have received a great deal of support, which has really touched me. I want win the gold with wrestling that moves the hearts of those who see my matches.”

Paris will be hosting its third Olympics but first in 100 years, with competition in 329 events across 32 sports. The opening ceremony will be held on July 26, and the action will continue through Aug. 11.

Yomiuri Shimbun photo
Athletes give a collective shout of resolve at a send-off party at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Friday.