Japanese athletes eager to strike gold as Beijing Olympics near

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A ceremony was held on Saturday to send-off the Japanese delegation for the Beijing Winter Olympics, which kick off next week.

“We will do our best so that the performances of athletes in the Winter Games can deliver courage and brightness throughout Japan and help create hopes for the future,” female speed skater Miho Takagi, 27, who serves as captain for Japanese Olympians, said in a speech.

Arisa Go, a 34-year-old female speed skater, who will serve as a flag-bearer at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony on Friday, was given the Japanese team’s flag from Japanese Olympic Committee President Yasuhiro Yamashita via Hidehito Ito, who heads the delegation.

The Japanese delegation has a total of 262 members, including 124 athletes, the most the country has ever had for a Winter Olympics held abroad.

Only four athletes attended Saturday’s ceremony, held at Grand Prince Hotel Shin Takanawa in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, in order to reduce the risk of infection from COVID-19. Other athletes watched the ceremony online.

Nordic combined skier Akito Watabe, 33, who is scheduled to serve as a flag-bearer with Go, was absent because he is competing in an event overseas.

“I hope that your hard work will pay off and you will perform well,” said Crown Prince Akishino, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Crown Princess Kiko. He also asked members of the delegation to take care not to get infected with the coronavirus.

“We aim to win more gold medals than we did in the Pyeongchang Olympics (in South Korea),” Ito, an official of the Japan Skating Federation, said at a news conference. Japan bagged 13 medals at the 2018 Games, a record for the country at a Winter Olympics, including four golds.

Most of the athletes competing for Japan will leave for Beijing on a flight from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Sunday.

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