By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – The Asian Games will be a chance for Japan’s athletes to test their preparations two years out from the Tokyo Olympics but also give officials the opportunity to gain some valuable insight into the organisation of the multi-sport event.
The 2018 Asian Games, albeit on a smaller scale than an Olympics, have included sport climbing and karate on their programme and Tokyo 2020 organisers are keen to see how they function.
“We do think that the Asian Games will definitely be important in the run-up to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020,” the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) said in a recent statement looking ahead to Jakarta.
“We also think that experiencing the atmosphere of the Asian Games will be a positive element for Tokyo 2020. We assume that most of the participating NOCs will send their best athletes.
“Especially for young athletes and athletes of the new additional sports for Tokyo 2020, it will be a good occasion to perform and to compete together as Team Japan.”
The JOC have targeted 30 gold medals at Tokyo 2020, almost twice as many as their record of 16 set when Japan last hosted the Olympics in 1964 and again at Athens 2004.
Despite their desire to see how their athletes are placed two years out from their own Games, the strength of the team varies on a sport-by-sport basis.
Many of Japan’s top table tennis players, including 15-year-old Tomokazu Harimoto, who is ranked eighth in the world, and Olympic silver medallist Maharu Yoshimura will not be at the Aug.18-Sept. 2 Asiad.
Triple Olympic champion gymnast Kohei Uchimura is also skipping the event to concentrate on the World Championships in October.
Japan have named a strong swimming team led by Olympic medallists Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto, straight off the back of hosting the Pan Pacific championships in Tokyo.
After their surprising 4×100 metres relay silver medal at the Rio Olympics and bronze at the world championships last year, all eyes will be on Japan’s sprinters who are looking to build towards 2020 with an Asian Games gold.
The badminton team also has high hopes after winning six medals at the recent world championships in China, with Kento Momota becoming the first Japanese man to win a singles world title.
Momota was only restored to the national team in January having served a suspension for gambling at an illegal casino in Tokyo in 2016.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)