February 23, 2010 11:26
Japan is having a tough time at the 2010 Winter Olympics and is on track to come home with no gold medals for a second time. Once a powerhouse in the winter games alongside the U.S. and Germany, Japan currently ranks 20th place in the medal standings in Vancouver with one silver and two bronzes.
As the only country in Asia to have hosted the Winter Olympics, Japan has considered itself the leader in winter sports in the region. At the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan surprised the world by beating Austria and Switzerland to take sixth place in the medal standings with five golds, one silver and four bronzes. The prevailing view was that Japanese athletes had no serious rivals in Asia when it came to winter sports. This year Japan has sent 94 athletes to Vancouver to compete in 13 events, including figure skating, alpine skiing, ski jump, bob sledding, speed skating and short track speed skating. The Japanese team is nearly twice the size of the Korean squad, which consists of 45 athletes competing in 11 events. The problem is that the Japanese athletes are not excelling.
Experts say that Japan's economic prosperity helped to launch Japanese athletes on the world stage. But as Korea and China have developed economically, Japan's head start has gradually been erased. As few Japanese athletes have to worry about mandatory military service or economic difficulties, lack of motivation is cited as another reason behind Japan's dwindling performance.
Korea first overtook Japan in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City when it ranked 14th in the medal standings with two golds and two silvers, compared to Japan's 21st place ranking with just one silver and one bronze. In Turin, Italy four years later, Korea ranked 7th while Japan took 15th place.
Now Korea has overtaken Japan in the combined count of all Winter Olympic medals. Korea has won nine medals in Vancouver (four golds, four silvers, one bronze) as of Monday, raising its all-time total to 40. Japan's three medals so far bring its total to 35. With five medals (three golds, one silver, one bronze), China has also passed Japan with a total of 38.
As the Vancouver Games are already half finished, chances are high that Japan may once again fail to win a gold medal. The only event where Japan is hoping to win a gold is in the women's figure skating, where Mao Asada and Miki Ando are competing. But with the presence of the heavy favorite Kim Yu-na of Korea, Japan's prospects are not very bright.
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